Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Transitioning time in manuscripts

A writer asked, "I can't fill in the days. I don't want to fill them in with things of no importance -- but I feel silly jumping around all the time, from morning and suddenly it's nighttime. I'm missing something...what is it?"

Ah, transitions. Yes, they can be tricky.

I have no idea who first said it, but I've often heard it quoted that "fiction is life without all the boring parts." And without transitions, you're just writing a diary of events. I mean, the real-time concept worked great for 24 ... but that's TV. And an exception.

No reader wants to read every little thing that happens, so transitions are necessary. Yet you don't want to start each scene with, "5 hours later" or "The following week."

The first thing I'd suggest is pick up a book and check out how the author did this. Writing good transitions is one of those things you can get the hang of from reading and paying attention.

What you'll notice is that new scenes have hooks to them. Just like in your first chapter where you're looking for ways to hook your reader into your story, you also look for ways to hook your reader into each new scene.

I grabbed Me, Just Different off my shelf to pull some examples because transitions were something I had trouble with when I wrote the manuscript and my editor was a real sweetheart and worked me through it.

So here's a scene where I specified the time in my opening sentence:

That night, as Mom passed me the moo shoo pork, she said, "I met someone you know at the women's brunch."

The time stamp is in there, but it doesn't slow down the story so we can get on with the real issue of figuring out who Skylar's mom met.

Here's another one:

The banner's announcing "Fall Ball is September 20th!" put Lisa in a funk the moment we got to school.

It's a way to sneak in the date and give some context. That means when Fall Ball happens several chapters later, the reader already knows when it is. Unless the writer isn't paying attention and later has Fall Ball happening post-Halloween. Ahem. Yes, I adore my editor.

Here are some others randomly pulled from Me, Just Different:

A little after 1:30, I heard Abbie sneak up the stairs.

"You weren't at church this morning," Connor said when I answered my phone.

I didn't return home until a few hours later, when I could be sure the screaming had stopped.

Something that works well is bringing us into the scene, then backing up a bit for context. Like:

"You sure I can't talk you into ice skating?" Eli asked as he directed his car down my street.
I'd been resting in the reclined passenger's chair. I opened my eyes and offered a sleepy smile. "I'm afraid lunch, two movies, and ice cream are all I have energy for today."

Nothing noteworthy happened during the lunch, two movies, and ice cream so they don't deserve their own scene ... but the reader does need to know how Skylar spent her afternoon.

Sometimes it doesn't really matter to the reader. Sometimes they have plenty of context from the previous scene and can tell the new scene is taking place directly after or a little later or whatever. Like if there's a scene where a girl breaks up with her boyfriend and the following scene is her sitting around gorging on ice cream with her girlfriends, you don't need to start us off with "Two hours later," or anything.

Bad transitions slow down a story. Good transitions are invisible.

One last thing today. Roseanna White, who regularly judges the writing prompt contests,
made her first sale to a big pub house a couple weeks ago. Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland will release from Summerside Press at the end of the year. I'm super excited for her! And in celebration of her 500th blog post, she's giving away a copy of either of her biblical fiction novels, A Stray Drop of Blood or Jewel of Persia. You can go here to check out details.

That's all for today!


  1. Aww, thanks for the shout-out, Stephanie. =)

    Transitioning time is definitely one of those tricks we all must master. I remember agonizing over it if I skipped a few days way back when. Now I'm like, "Eh, I don't need those 18 months in here . . . skip!" ;-)

  2. I have been rereading "Me, Just Different." It's partly because I am using it to 'research' how to revise my first three or so chapters (because of the Write Now program concerning needing a hook to begin with - mine started frightfully slow - and having the first three chapters end well because that's what those in the biz request first - and mine, well, didn't - not yet anyway). And partly because I LOVE this series so much. I wouldn't have thought so at the beginning. Skylar is nothing like me in so many ways - yet I GET her, right from the beginning. Something I am desperately trying to enable my reader to do!! :-) :-) So, thanks for this awesome series and helping me work out the kinks in my manuscript, and also for writing the first book in I don't know when that I have reread in a matter of a few months.

  3. Thankyou!!! This definitely helped a lot, Steph. And those examples were great.

    Congratulations, Rosenanna!

  4. Stephanie, I wonder if you could turn this series into a book at the end
    of the year? I can see it now, it'd be so fun & unique.
    Each page or so a post, you could even have pages with our comments & then a
    Blank page for readers to add their comments. Oh, &the cover would go along with your backround

  5. I love your idea Tonya! I would definitely buy it. Any publisher people reading this???;)

  6. Oh, Rachelle, I'm so touched that you're rereading Me, Just Different. Skylar and I don't have much in common either. I think that's what made her so fun to write :) And I'm proud of you for working so hard on the revisions for your manuscript. Frustrating but rewarding work.

    Tonya and Emii ... oh my goodness, you girls are WAY too nice. I feel like I'm totally bumbling my way through this. It's occurred to me that I can use this material for curriculum ... except then people might expect me to, like, teach and stuff. Yikes!

  7. Bumbling or not, I'm glad you have the courage to try it because I think in speak for a your regulars when I day we LOVE it

  8. Transitions have always been something I've struggled with, so I'm definitely bookmarking this one. Thanks for sharing!

  9. This is something I've had to work on a lot on my current WIP. I have two timelines running at the same time, and it's very complicated. My MMC and my FMC are the same age and tell the story through alternating chapters. I started my FMC at six, though, and needed to get caught up with eighteen-year-old MMC somewhere in act two. So... I started Miss Lark at six, skipped to twelve, showed one chapter of her as a fifteen-year-old, and then plunged her into the MMC's world at eighteen. :) Every time I skipped, I had to shower the first page or so with hints about her new age and what has changed in the last six years or however long it has been. It's like writing several first pages throughout the book!