Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Transition Trouble

Lately I’ve been thinking about transitions between scenes inside a single chapter of a novel. Here are a couple different ways you can do it (I’m using the example of a girl going from her house to her friend’s house.)

1- The first kind is to simply tell everything that happens in between, to not have a break at all. In this case, the girl would go down to the garage, start the car, back out of the driveway, drive onto the freeway, pull off into her friend’s subdivision… you get the idea.

Pros:  This way works especially well whenever something interesting happens on the ride that’s not important enough to get a whole scene but needs to happen. Like maybe her car won’t start at first, foreshadowing a full breakdown a couple chapters later. Or maybe she’s driving along and she catches a glimpse of someone walking along the highway who later becomes a major character.  Also, if your character has a lot of thinking to do, you can have her think while driving. Interiority is always more interesting if your character is actually doing something.

Cons: This can easily get boring. Your readers probably aren’t interested in a character driving along a highway to a friend’s house. Unless something interesting happens or the MC is thinking, it’s probably best not to use this technique.

                2- The second way would be to just summarize it really quickly. You’d write about the girl deciding to go to her friend’s house then say ‘a minute later I pulled into her driveway.’

Pros: This is great because you leave out most of the boring stuff while not actually using a section break, which can be choppy. Since you probably don’t want to use too many section breaks this is a great way to splice two scenes together without one.

Cons: This can still have a lot of unwanted information. You don’t want to jump too far when you’re just skimming so you probably need to give some details, which can still get boring. Also, if this is poorly done, it can feel really awkward jumping so quickly from scene to scene. This was one of my main problems with Mockingjay. Collins would combine so many scenes in one chapter, jumping forward a couple weeks in a single paragraph. It was rather disorienting, actually.

                3- The most often used way would be to simply give a section break to indicate time passing. Here you’d say, ‘“See you in a minute,” I said. * * * * Ten minutes later, I pulled into her driveway.’

Pros: This clearly indicates the passage of time, giving the reader a bit of a breather space and keying them up for a new scene, possibly with a mood change. If you’re transitioning between two very different scenes, this is probably the best way. The best thing is, you can jump as far as you want and start up again wherever you’d like.

Cons: This can easily become choppy, especially if you have many section breaks. It’s probably not a good idea to have more than two of these breaks per chapter. While it’s a great method for transitioning between two very different scenes, if the scenes are super similar it’s probably best to use method number two.

So, here are a couple ideas for switching between scenes inside a single chapter. Do you have any to add? Which one of these is your favourite? 


  1. I actually use all of these equally. Probably the third one is used to much, but other than that, I'm pretty good at giving variation. xD

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