Transitions from scene to scene

by Kevin Hall
(Atlanta, Georgia)

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.

Answer: 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.

Comments for Transitions from scene to scene

Click here to add your own comments

Tansition from two different characters.
by: Jen

I am having a problem with transitioning from one character to another smoothly, they are at different places at the same time. so I tried one paragraph or page with one character then transitioning to the other character at a different place, it's like in a movie where there are two characters, one is at the movies and the other is at home, or where they have a fight and one character walks away, they go back and forth from one character to the other, however I don't know how to transition to make it clear to the reader that we are back at the battle field, or we are back wit the main character in the hospital. please help I am stuck.

To Jen
by: Glen

Suggestion: When you switch POV characters, let your first sentence include some information that clearly identifies the new setting. Make it a sentence that could not apply to the previous place/time.

E.g. "Behind me, a child was slurping on a giant soda so loudly I could barely hear the movie."

"I slammed the car door shut and collapsed over the steering wheel."

"Nurse Wendy kept dropping hints that I should go home and rest, but I was not leaving Tom's side -- not until there was some sign his condition was stable."

To Glenn
by: Jenn

Thank you Glenn. I have tried 'meanwhile, Back at' but I don't want to keep typing those words. One paragraph has my hero at the battlefield and then the next "Meanwhile Vanessa sit in her hospital room mulling over books to help her case with the Supreme Council. (Then I would go back to my hero like this: Back at Port Town, Thomas is searching for the slaves who were rumored to be in the mine tunnel, his mind wonders back to his beautiful wife in the hospital. How would I transition without using the same words over and over?

re: "Meanwhile..."
by: To Jenn

Just don't use those words. "Meanwhile back at the ranch" is a cliche that comes from silent movies. Film makers would insert a card with such a phrase to transition between scenes. But you'll notice that no film or TV show today uses such cards because they just aren't necessary.

Same in prose. Just do as I suggested and readers will know where they are. Also, indicate a change of scene with a blank line (with a "#" in the centre to let the publisher know the line is supposed to be blank.

Switching Scenes
by: Jaylin

I'm having some trouble switching "scenes." My novel is in a first person point of view, but I was to add some mystery. For example, my main character is in the hospital and then I want to switch to my other main character exchanging a secret letter with a mysterious man. How would I switch the two setting without making it so abrupt?

to: Jaylin
by: Glen

Well, the change you are wanting to make IS an abrupt change. You are going from one place and time to another. It's good if it is a sharply defined switch. You want your reader to know the shift has happened, otherwise the narrative won't make sense. {"Wait... I thought this was taking place in a hospital room?")

Once the scene in the hospital is complete, insert a chapter break, or at the very least a section break. (To make a section break in a double-spaced manuscript, enter "return" to go down two lines. Put a "#" in the centre of the line. Then enter return again to go down two more lines. Then begin the new section.)

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Plot Invite.


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.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Plot Invite.