Construction Zone: Easing Forward with Transitions

As a reader, transition points are normally the place where I determine I can put a book down for the night, or go get that drink of water or snack I’ve been wanting for the last twenty pages. Most of the time that happens at a chapter or scene break. In really good books, there’s never a good point to put the book down, and I end up carrying it with me to get that snack, sneaking bits of it throughout the day, and even staying up far, far too late at night in order to get to the end.

I’m sure you’ve guessed that as a writer, I want to write books with transitions so smooth there’s never a “good” place to put it down. I think the key to that is just to keep the story moving, even at a dip in the story arc, there should be something happening that pulls the reader forward into the next sentence. This is especially important at scene and chapter breaks – every scene should end with some sort of small “cliffhanger”, every chapter should end with an unanswered question that is big enough to pull the reader forward to the next. I’m still working on that one…I’m pretty good at transitioning between scenes, but because I often change points of view at the chapter break, that’s a little more difficult for me.

The most recent transitions I’ve been working on are those for Tempest, my serial novel. Serials are a different style of writing – and I didn’t really consciously realize that until I started editing Tempest. Every week, I try to sculpt the scene so that regular readers don’t have to go back and re-read the last scene to reorient themselves to the story. I try to include enough information from the last chapter in the first sentence of the new chapter to jog the memory so readers can simply keep reading without effort even though a week has passed. But when reading the serial chapters together as a cohesive story, those “first scene sentences” become redundant with regards to both some of the information, and also things like names vs. personal pronouns. My challenge now is to smooth those over, remove the redundancies and make them flow together with the cliffhanger scene endings. I’ve been kind of surprised at how I need to actually add material to many of them to create that smooth flow, sometimes even full paragraphs.

What I’ve been doing to study transitions is opening books I’ve already read that I couldn’t put down, finding the scene and chapter breaks, and just studying how the author moved me from one point to another. It works better with print books, in my opinion, but that may be because I read ebooks on a very small screen. It’s fascinating to study how other authors have done this, and it’s definitely helping me to see how I can improve my own transitions.

How do you deal with transitions in your work? Do you consciously pay attention to how you’re moving from scene to scene and chapter to chapter, or does it come more naturally for you? Does it annoy you when there’s no good place to take a break in a book?

5 comments on “Construction Zone: Easing Forward with Transitions

  1. Dolly

    I definitely need to work on transitions. My first times are bit random – some are great, others leave much to be desired. Of course my goal is the same, as I know exactly what you mean about those un-put-downable books.

    So far I have unconsciously try to pay attention to it in the books I read, but I might devote some time to actually studying it. It’s definitely a good idea, just need to sit down and devote time to it.

    Incidentally would you mind sharing which books you are using for your experiment?

    What I find tricky is that some books I can’t put down because they are overall great – so even if the scene or a chapter ends where I can take a break, I normally don’t want to. But then there are others where there is a cliff-hanger, but I can still put it down.

  2. Cindy R. Wilson

    I think transitioning comes more naturally to me the first time around. But when I’m editing, I really pay attention to where I’m leaving the reader at the end of a chapter or scene break so it makes them want to move on.

    I love books that do it well. It makes for late nights sometimes because I can never put a book down, but I still love them.

  3. Erica

    Hey! We blogged on the same topic ;o) That’s a great idea, read some books to see. Hunger Games is a big one for me. Collins is a pro at that…

    I need a lot of help with this. I’ve been working on mine too ;o)

  4. Carol

    I think I’m getting better at transitions, at least I hope I am! 🙂

    I find chapter transitions the easiest – I try to end them on a cliff-hanger or something that’s going to make the reader want to know “what happens next”.

    Within the chapter, that’s where I run into trouble. Sometimes the scenes are just so many beads strung on a thread, only without the thread.

  5. Zachary Y. Cooper

    I learn something new everyday or get to read about other people’s experience which is why I love reading blogs.