Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing Exercise #20: Scene Transitions

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

We've made it to Friday again, friends! Some weeks it feels more like a victory than others. This is definitely one of those weeks. 

For those of you participating in National Novel Writing Month, how's it going? If you haven't hit a funky stretch, you will. I'm sure. But press on, okay? YOU CAN DO THIS!

We had a request a while back for a blog post on scene transitions and I thought I'd do what I could to bring a little clarity. We have definitely talked about this before on the blog, so if you'd like some more information on the topic, just type 'scene transitions' into the search bar at the top of the page and you'll have some options to sort through.

The request we received recently read like this:

How do you fill in the spaces between scenes? I'm a plotter who writes the scenes I've plotted, but I can't seem to figure out how they connect right with the other scenes in the story. I call it "grasshopper syndrome" because it feels like I literally have to jump to the next scene to stay motivated.

It's a good question. Moving naturally from one scene to another is a problem for those who plot their stories out in advance as well as for those who sit with their hands on the keyboard and pray the words come. Both drafting styles present different obstacles and can produce stories that read like a collection of grasshopper scenes. 

To address that issue, you can use scene transitions. 

Scene transitions are useful tools when you're changing the setting, moving to a different time, shifting the tone, or switching point of views. You can transition in all sorts of ways and how you choose to do this contributes to your style and the pacing of your tale.

The most common way to leave one scene and move into another is with a chapter break. When you end one chapter and begin another one, readers know that a change is, if not inevitable, at least possible. A change that's likely related to the location, time, narrator, or tone. A change at this point will not surprise them at all.

If it serves the story, you can elect to use the closing words of one chapter to set up the beginning of the next. For example:
Tomorrow would be a challenge, but Katie was more than up for it.

With a chapter ending like that, starting the subsequent chapter is easy peasy. And there's no need to fill in every moment of Katie's life between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. It's okay to simply jump with Katie to tomorrow. In fact, it's expected. You've done your job. You've closed out one scene and primed the audience for the next. In this way, scene transitions can be very short and simple.

Of course, it isn't always ideal to break a chapter after a scene, so if you need to, you can indicate a scene break with three asterisks or pound signs. Simply center them on a line between the two scenes and the reader will understand a change has taken place (a publisher too, but that's a different subject altogether).

As mentioned, some scene transitions are very short:

Introducing a new time: "Later that day . . ." 


Introducing a new point of view: "Bob's thoughts on the subject were very different."

But if a more dramatic change has taken place, you'll need to offer more substantial help to get the reader to make the jump. 

Setting changes: When you jump from one location to another, you need to set the scene. Depending on the type of novel you're writing and the voice of the character, these descriptions can be brief or more detailed. Either way, the reader needs to know where you've gone so they can follow you. Don't leave them asking, "Where are we now?"

Time jumps: Any substantial movement in time needs to be marked. We can jump hours or centuries and you need to somehow cue the reader into the present. It can be a simple mention of the time or it can be a paragraph about the dresses of the women moving down the streets of Victorian London. However you do it, you need to put us in the correct moment.

Tone shifts: Sometimes a book will call for a dramatic shift in feel. The pace slows or increases rapidly. Maybe a scene ends with a character drifting off to sleep in her bed, all peace and dreams. Our next scene begins abruptly, with her window shattering inward, glass peppering her body, sirens blaring. You want this transition to have the feel of SUDDENLY. It's okay to keep the transition short, perhaps just three pound signs indicating a scene break. We don't need to ease into every moment. But these kinds of abrupt transitions should be very deliberate and not overused.

Head hops: It's a rare author in modern writing that has mastered the omniscient point of view allowing for various degrees of head hopping. For the most part, I'd like to recommend that you tell the story from one point of view at a time. If you do need to leave one noggin and jump into another one, do the reader a favor and give them a chapter break or a scene break (###) to mark the transition. And when you do make these transitions, take a moment and ground us in this new perspective. Don't leave readers guessing whose thoughts they're hearing, whose eyes they're viewing the world through. 

As you can see, there are many different kinds of scene transitions, but the most effective are the ones that transport the reader completely to the author's chosen time, place, tone and perspective. Transitions do not need to be long and cumbersome, but they must be long enough to get the job done. 

For today's exercise, I want you to grab a novel. Doesn't matter which one; any novel will do. Take some time and flip through it, reading chapter endings and beginnings, looking for extra spaces between paragraphs that indicate a scene break. When you find a scene transition that jumps out at you as particularly successful or interesting, type it out for us in the comments section and tell us why you think the transition worked. I can't wait to read your thoughts!

REMEMBER! When you participate in our writing exercises you can enter to win an opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a question for one of our upcoming writing panels. Once you leave your response to the writing prompt in the comments section, use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Next week, Rafflecopter will select one winner and we'll contact you for your question via email. Happy writing, friends!
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  1. The scene break I chose is from J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring":

    But the Black Riders rode like a gale to the North-gate. Let the little people blow! Sauron would deal with them later. Meanwhile they had another errand: they knew now that the house was empty and the Ring was gone. They rode down the guards at the gate and vanished from the Shire.

    In the early night Frodo woke from deep sleep, suddenly, as if some sound or presence had disturbed him. ... Frodo soon went to sleep again; but his dreams were again troubled with the noise of wind and of galloping hoofs.

    I think this could be categorized as a "tone shift" scene transition. The author is literally going between two seemingly unrelated scenes which take place in two different places, and the point is not to outline a new setting or to usher the reader into a different time. However, with this scene transition--with the very fact that these two scenes come one after another with nothing in between--he connects them to enhance the overall ominous tone of the passages. The scenes are in fact connected, and the message in the transition is clear: the main characters are being hunted.

    1. I just read that part!

  2. This was part of the movie, not the book, but it was a narrated part of the movie, so I think it's still relevant.

    "..and for centuries, the Ring passed out of all knowlage, until quite by accident, it found a new master."

    I think that this categorizes as a time shift.


  3. One of my favorite chapter transitions is from the Squire's Tale series by Gerald Morris, more specifically The Lioness and her Knight. At the end of one chapter, the main character discovers that she's made a big mistake that could cause serious problems. The next chapter begins with another character saying "I never dreamed a fine lady like you would even know such words, let alone say them! And all strung together like that, too!" It helps lighten the tone of the reveal, while showing they're now in a more private place where he can tease her and where they can plan what they're going to do about this mess, and also hints at what may have gone on in the middle.