The subtle textures of writing are often the most difficult. Beyond the macro elements of plot, character, setting, conflict, etc., the micro elements of storytelling sometimes stop us in our literary tracks. Yet, these story components are no less important to the overall experience of the beat, scene or chapter.
One of those fundamental facets of bestseller writing is the transition. Shifting the story from one character, setting or time period to another.
While these “shifts” or transitions can be managed in numerous ways, handled improperly, these moments in a story can confuse, distract and irritate readers. Here are some of the most common “offenses” when it comes to transitions:
- Jumping from one point of view to another with no narrative explanation or book formatting (i.e. space or chapter breaks) to indicate a new character or perspective.
- Progressing backwards in time, such as a memory or back flash, with too little or too long of a transition (i.e. The shattered car transported her back to another time and place, far away from the here and now, back through time to a younger self, to when she was seven years old in the backseat of another car…)
- Painfully narrating every mile or step in a long process unimportant to the story (i.e. explaining every turn and stop light in a 10 mile trip from X to Y)
Most bestselling novels include numerous transitions: scene openings, scene endings, chapter breaks, point of view changes, back flashes, forward flashes, setting changes and progressions from action to action throughout the story. Correctly handling these many “literary adjustments” is paramount to an effective, gripping narrative.
Consider the following guidelines to execute these “shifts” like bestsellers:
- Keep transitions short and simple (i.e. two hours later, she was suddenly seven years old again, once they arrived…)
- Skip the boring parts (i.e. leave out cooking, driving or any other activity not crucial to the plot. A simple, “He grilled steaks” is sometimes most effective and least distracting to the story)
- Start late and end early (i.e. Open scenes and chapters after the conflict, action, etc has already begun and end the scene before it is over. This lends itself to interest, conflict and drama).
- Vary your “shifts”. (i.e. Don’t always open late or end early. Don’t always end scenes with someone storming out of the room. Mix it up.)
Last, but not least, here are a few transitions to use in your stories:
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What transitions do you use in your stories?