Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
On a fun note – having been born on a Friday the 13th, Winnie has always considered 13 her lucky number. This belief was recently reinforced when her 13th book, Handpicked Husband, won a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award in – what else – 2013.
When writing your story, you don’t want to include a detailed account of every action taken by every character in your story, nor do you always want to tell the story linearly. Instead, a good writer will select those scenes that are not only of interest but that also progress the plot in some way. Which means, by necessity, gaps will occur: gaps in time, in movement from one location to another, in point of view, in scene focus.
Transitions are those small but oh-so-important words or phrases that help guide your reader across these story gaps smoothly and while still remaining grounded in your story. There are several techniques or devices that you can utilize to do this effectively. Some of them are:
The Direct Method or ‘Clean Break’– Simply tell the reader what change has taken place:
Early the following Monday, Michael.… (Time change)
Once he reached the parking garage…. (Location change)
Mood – Use feelings, emotions, atmosphere to help convey the change:
As Stan pulled out of the company garage onto the congested highway, his hands clutched the wheel in a death grip and the cords in his neck tightened. It would take forever to get out of this tangle of traffic…
Once the city was behind him, however, the tension drained away and he breezed down the open road that led to his summer cabin. (Time and Location change)
The Five Senses – Use sound, sight, touch, taste and/or smell to bridge a story gap:
Margie hummed as she applied an extra spray of her favorite cologne, enjoying the light floral scent.
Andy’s nose started to twitch before Margie even entered the room. Why did she insist on using that nasty flowery perfume that always made him sneeze? (POV change)
Cassie heard a distant grumble of thunder off to the east as she closed her book. Maybe Allan was finally getting some of that rain he’d been hoping for.
Allan squinted through the windshield, looking for a safe place to pull over and wait out the violent storm. This wasn’t what he’d had in mind when he’d prayed for a ‘bit of rain’. (POV and location change)
An Event – Use an ongoing, recent or anticipated event to unify your scenes:
Hesitating for only a heartbeat, Lynda dropped the letter into the mail slot, determined to make the first move toward reconciliation. When a week passed without a response, however, she began to wonder if contacting her grandfather had been such a wise move after all. (Time change)
The near-crash triggered a memory, one she’d rather not dwell on. But there it was, full blown and swooshing in like an avalanche. That other crash had happened six years ago. Her mom was driving her and her friends to the airport… (Time change – flashback)
A Character (whether human or otherwise) – Use the mention of a character to guide us through a story shift:
Stacey pulled into her driveway on Friday afternoon, wondering how she’d let her sister talk her into dog-sitting their troublesome mutt for the weekend. She really wasn’t big into the whole pet scene.
But by Sunday evening,, Rufus had wormed his shaggy way right into her heart. (Time change)
An Object – Use an object or activity to move from one scene to another without jarring the reader:
Roger halted mid-sentence as a baseball came crashing through the window. Blast it all, he’d told Jimmy not to play ball in the yard.
He picked up the ball and marched to the door . Jimmy was going to pay to fix this, even if it meant he had to mow every yard in town to do it. (Change in scene focus)
The Environment– Use weather, terrain, scenery, seasons to depict change:
The autumn seemed long that year. Perhaps it was because she was so homesick for the Ozarks, where nature painted the mountainsides with magnificent blazes of color. Winter was easier, and by spring, the Texas gulf coast was beginning to feel, if not like home, at least less alien to her. (Time change – extended period)
These are just a sampling. There are, of course, other ways to handle transitions. Just keep in mind – your main goal in using transitions is to keep your reader grounded and oriented in the who, what, where, and when of your story without their having to reread passages to figure it out.
What are some of your favorite tricks for managing transitions?