A blog reader asked about using smooth transitions in her writing so I decided to tackle that topic for today's Writing Process post. Smooth transitions are essential to excellent writing - they help maintain your novel's pace, change POV, and ground your reader in what came before.
They are also tricky little devils.
I've used transitions differently in my two novels. For DYING TO REMEMBER, I have two or three smaller scenes per chapter, each scene told from a different POV. Instead of transitioning with words from one POV to the next, I simply hit return, used *** centered on the next line to indicate a larger space needed due to scene change, and then started the next scene. I loved using this method because it makes it easy to keep a fast pace (give just enough info to get the reader on the edge of her seat and then switch to someone else) and I didn't have to mess with pesky sentences that restated anything that came before.
For SHADOWING FATE, that method didn't work because the entire novel is told from Alexa's POV. Each chapter is one complete scene. Some chapters are continuations of the previous scene and thus didn't need a transition. They did, however, need a quick sentence to ground the reader who might, God forbid, have put down my novel and picked it up later and need to be reminded where they are in the plot. (As you know, it is my goal to make my books impossible to put down!) For chapters where time has passed since the end of the chapter before, I use one quick sentence at the beginning to cover that gap and then launch the next scene.
Here are some tips that work for me in crafting transitions:
1. Use line breaks (the centered ***) to indicate scene changes between different POVs as a transition. See chapter one of DYING TO REMEMBER on the sidebar for an example.
2. Don't belabor your transition. One or two sentences can ground the reader in your current scene and cover any gap in time between that scene and the last.
3. Make sure you use a transition - which is really just an explanation for where the character is and why - if the scenes do not follow each other in chronological order so your reader isn't lost.
4. If it works for your novel, try a creative approach to transitions - like labeling the top of each scene with the day, or the time, or the location. I've seen this done very effectively and that one little label is all the transition you need.
5. The best way to understand how to effectively use transitions is to read stellar examples of other author's work. Read extensively in your chosen genre and in a few others and pay close attention to how that author structures their transitions. You'll begin to get a feel for what will work for your novel.