I have decided I officially suck at transitions. Anne Mok, one of my clarion classmates, had a real touch for them, those throwaway sentences which move the characters from the car to the bar without sounding clunky or crowded with unnecessary detail. Sadly, the only stuff of hers online (that I know of) is at AntiSF, which would only be 500 words and so probably not many opportunities for transitions. You'll just have to take my word for it.

I don't tend to think in complete scenes so much as in fragments (hello scattershot draft!), and over the years I've indulged a very bad habit: need a transition? A scene break will do. Eep. Today, in editing a story, I realised I'd gotten so desperate for a transition I had actually knocked one of my characters unconscious. Okay, so yes, it's a logical thing to happen in the story, but that probably has more to do with luck than good planning πŸ˜‰

I have a theory (which is possibly more wishful thinking), that by the time I notice I'm not doing something right, it means I've been working on it in the backbrain for a little while. The backbrain is coy, and likes to try and perfect skills without my being aware it's doing anything more than concentrating on suggesting up cravings. Let's hope the theory's right, and I'm halfway to figuring out the way I want to perfect this tricksy tricksy issue.

In the meantime, what do you do for transitions? Does it come naturally, or was there a time you thought it through, and watched (read) what others did? Do you cheat the way I like to, and fade to black? Are you one of the lucky writers who thinks in complete scenes?

5 thoughts on “transitions

  1. Sorry, Deb, this one doesn't go away. Even within scenes, people have to move around, get across rooms, in and out of rooms, open car doors, precede and follow each other this way and that.

    Today I've been working on two stories, one where people are basically walking for the first scene, then climbing up a ladder-scaffold thing, through a gravity-free room and up onto the surface of Hell, then across to Hell's Gate. I haven't used scene breaks, but nearly.

    To convey the movement (this has involved cutting a lot of very interesting sentences like "They trudged on." (!)) I've used changes in the landscape as they move from marsh to grassy plain where the grasses cut their legs, to gibber plain where it's hard to walk. Once they got to the scaffold, their movements were quite interesting, especially the gravity-free room, so the transitions were quite fun to write.

    The other story involves 2 young men standing over a valley looking into a valley that is a kind of between-worlds area a bit like the Wood Between the Worlds in The Magician's Nephew (I think that's the right Narnia Chronicle). One of these young men is looking into the valley through a telescope, and gets sucked down into the valley by an entity there, through the telescope. SCENE BREAK. There he is in the valley, with the entity bullying him overhead. As he suffers, he starts to hear another little weeny voice like his own just as he is fainting from pain. When he wakes, his friend is there, arguing with the entity. Later, when they've escaped the entity and are climbing out of the valley, the friend tells him, It took me hours to get down to you, etc. etc. So I avoided having the friend struggling down through the forest, which would have been boring.

    But I always overdescribe transitions to start with, so that when I read them back the people seem to move about like Thunderbirds puppets, gesturing self-consciously but stiffly. I am constantly changing phrases like "Z (POV character) saw her lift her hand" to "She lifted her hand", and creating movement from static sentences. So no, transitions don't come naturally to me, but I am getting the hang of spotting extraneous material, and passive and static constructions of all kinds, and weeding, slashing, burning them out!

    Yours deeply in revision mode,

  2. Actually, it's something I don't think I've ever paid much attention to.

    I tend to get bogged down in details for transition – I get carried away making the landscape a fascinating place, then realise nothing has happened for several pages, and slice and dice.

    But looking at the giant crab story, Thirt moved around an awful lot in that, and I couldn't hid it behind conversation. In most cases, I blurred it with the contrasting sensations between indoors and outdoors, with some random trigger to indicate she was at the end. Probably too much blurring…

    Otherwise, I'm liberal with scene breaks. They exist for a reason, and I'll use 'em.

  3. Margo:

    Sorry, Deb, this one doesn't go away.


    It's interesting to hear you writing Thunderbird puppets πŸ˜‰ I'm moving into that territory myself, after all this time writing talking heads. Now I'm so conscious of putting in movements I have a habit of making everyone slump in chairs and look away and wave their hands. (Everyone in the current book is into hand-waving. It's like I'm writing puppeteers.) I will get better at this, I will.


    I get carried away making the landscape a fascinating place, then realise nothing has happened for several pages

    Exactly! I cut darlings from my story this morning, two guards by a river dock. I loved those guys. But they were just dragging out the opening, with no purpose other than a bit of worldbuilding. But they were aurochs-men. Aurochs-men. Can I really do with aurochs-men?

    I remember liking the transitions in the crab story, now that you mention it. Movement with meaning. I'll have to have another look when it goes live; remind me, 'kay?

  4. I *loathe* transitions. I'm terrible at them. I usually write a bunch of choppy scenes then later discover they simply *must* be all part of one scene. Then I go bungling the transitions. I bet I spend 70% of my revising time trying to come up with reasonable-sounding transitions.

    Mine sound forced, I think.

    I think the way to go, though, is exatly what you're doing; find people who do it well and read a lot of their stuff. Since I've been paying attention, I've noticed a lot of authors struggle with it. Makes me feel better. πŸ™‚

  5. Thanks, I'm glad I'm not the only one who writes forced transitions! This afternoon or weekend I'm going to dig through my bookcase and make a concentrated study of this. Will let you know what I discover.

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