A few weeks ago, one of the members of this group asked if we could discuss scenes and scene transitions, so that’s what we’re going to do. (But if you'd rather discuss something different, we can do that also.)
At it’s most simplistic, a scene is an action sequence that begins with a character trying to attain a goal, is further developed when someone or something tries to prevent the character from attaining the goal, and ends when either the goal is reached or disaster ensues. Either way, we should learn something new about the character by the end of the scene.
A novel is a seamless flow of story from scene to scene without interruption. At least it should appear that way. In actuality, time sometimes passes between one scene and the next, and it’s the way the writer handles transitions that makes the story flow.
Authors used to write long pieces of narrative and exposition linking scenes, but that isn’t necessary, and in today’s fast-paced world is a serious drawback. Readers want to plunge immediately into a new scene without being distracted by boring discourses.
One of the easiest and perhaps most effective ways of making a scene transition is simply to skip a space and start the new scene. (Or rather, start in an interesting place in a new scene.) “I’m dead,” Scott said. He lay in bed under the blue patchwork comforter Gracie had made him, his head turned toward the window.
Another easy way is to start with the grandmother of all scene transitions: Later. Just that one word. Or you can add a bit of time, A month later, Scott fell from a high beam.
Another good transition word is After. For example: After Scott had been pronounced dead, after he had been cleaned and shrouded in a white blanket, after he’d been hauled away in a purple body bag like so much garbage, the hospice nurse remained to comfort Gracie.
Or you can use seasons: In the spring, she buried Scott’s ashes beneath the dead willow.
On Facebook, a writer asked if it was okay to jump forward six months in a novel. My response: “It's perfectly acceptable to jump ahead, and in a lot of cases, it's the best thing for the book as long as you do the transition right. That way you keep hitting the high points of the story. If nothing significant happens in those six months (and you need the time to pass) then it's better to jump ahead rather than bore your readers to death with unimportant events and dialogue. It's easy enough to do -- just start the chapter with "Six months have passed since such and such happened, and now, etc." Might not be elegant, but it gets the point across.”
Other authors disagreed with my transition suggestion, saying it was too much author intrusion, that it would pull people out of the story, but I do know it wouldn’t pull people out of the story as much as six months worth of nothing happening.
This isn’t the exact wording as my inelegant response, but it’s basically the same thing: During the following spring, as the second anniversary of Scott’s death drew near, Gracie realized . . . again . . . he would never come back. He was gone forever, and since grief hadn’t killed her, much to her shock, she knew she’d have to do something to get her life back.
These are just a few ways I made the transition from scene to scene in a short story I recently wrote for an anthology that Second Wind Publishing will release this spring. Since my 2,100-word story spanned twenty-five years, I needed a lot of transitions. Without the transitions taking me from scene to scene, all I would have had is a long, boring narration of an uneventful marriage that ended in death.
So let’s talk about scenes and transitions from scene to scene. How do you personally write scenes and make transitions? What comes easy for you? What comes hard?
As always, any topic that will help us improve our writing is fair game in these discussions, so feel free to bring up any of your writing concerns.
The group No Whine, Just Champagne will meet here at this article for a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:00pm ET (8pm CT, 7pm MT, 6pm PT). Hope to see you, but if you can't make it then, the discussion will continue during the days afterward, so please stop by and tell us what you think.