Transitions from scene to scene
by Kevin Hall
Question: What are the smoothest ways to write a transition from one scene to another scene in an entirely different location within the same chapter? Could you please give me a few different ways I could go with this? I get confused about how to have some characters doing some things in one location and then switch to another location to show what some different characters are doing within the same chapter.
When changing scenes, the important thing is not to be smooth but to be clear.
Think about scenes as events. Transitions take the reader from the end of one event to the start of the next. So two guidelines...
1. Make the reader feels that the first event is finished before you change scenes. That doesn't mean all the action at that time and place must be finished, just that the reader has appreciated the plot, theme, or character development that you wanted to convey. At that point, you may break to a new scene. Later, you may come back to the original time and place and continue the action, but it will really be a new scene in which a different event takes place. Don't try to break before the event/development has actually occurred.
For instance, maybe the first part of the scene is where a stunning revelation occurs and the second part is the character's reaction to the revelation. You can break this into two scenes and put another scene in between (creating suspense). Just recognize that the revelation and the reaction are two different events. Put the break
after the first has ended and before the second begins.
2. Orient the reader in the new scene. The new scene will probably occur at a different time or place. It may also be told from a different character's point of view. You want the first few sentences to orient the reader so that he knows where he is and whose eyes he is looking through. Sometimes, it can be as simple as writing something like, “Two hours later...” or “Hotel Grand, 10:26 PM. John sat hunched over the blackjack table staring at his last two chips.” Other times, you may need a paragraph to catch the reader up on what's been happening with your character and to convey the new location.
When you are changing point-of-view (POV) characters, it's especially important to make the transition clear. You don't want the reader to get confused about this issue. The reader should immediately know when he has switched to a new POV character. For this reason, it's usually best to use a chapter break when switching POV characters.
If you must change POV characters within a chapter, emphasize the transition by inserting the symbol "###" centred on a line between the end of one scene and the start of the next. That symbol indicates to the printer that a blank line is to be left in the printed book. In fact, it's best to use this blank line break whenever you change scenes.
Sure, there may be times when you can get away without it, by underlining the transition with words. But when in doubt, be clear.
Question: Okay, so I've been working on a novel for quite a while, and I have recently had to start over because the story is too choppy. I have a severe issue with connecting "scenes" (I don't really know if there is another word for it). I can write the scene very very well, it is just connecting the scene with the last one I have trouble with.
Is there an antidote to my brain-fart? THANKS!
Answer: A few tips on this subject:
1. Make sure you are clear that the one scene has ended before starting a new one. It should have a feeling of completeness to it. Also, it is helpful to have either a chapter break or an extra space in the manuscript that signals a transition.
2. The key to transitions is to orient the reader in the new scene, so he knows he is in a different place, time, and possibly viewpoint.
Sometimes it is a simple matter of beginning the new scene with a phrase like, "When John arrived home that evening..." Other times, the reader needs to be filled in a little more about what has happened since the last scene, or what the characters have been doing or thinking in response to what happened in the previous scene, so that the reader begins the new scene feeling "up to speed."
3. Keep in mind that plots unfold in a cause and effect chain, such that an action will lead to a decision, which will lead to a new action, etc. In an action story, the decisions may not take up a lot of space, but they are still important.
4. Try looking at some of your favorite novels to see how those authors take their readers from one scene to the next. This can vary depending on style and genre. For example, "hard boiled" novels may not spend much time on character deliberations and make transitions using as few words as possible. Other novels may take a page or two summarizing what a character has been up to over a course of weeks or months before the next big scene.