On Writing: Let’s Look at Transitions

When switching from one scene to another or one chapter to another, the writer’s goal is to maintain the reader’s interest level or even to ramp it up from where the previous scene/chapter left off.

To do that some writers, myself included, occasionally fall back on a straight narrative presentation. Here’s an example:

Joe wrote 10:59 in the sign-in book even though the clock behind the receptionist said it was 11:03. “I got here on time,” he’d tell his parole officer, “but there was a long line at security.”

There hadn’t been a line. He’d overslept and had to walk the ten blocks to the diner where his mother worked to borrow her car and a twenty to pay for parking. He’d ask Olafson to pay for the parking so he could return the twenty to his mother. Maybe then she wouldn’t chew him out in front of his step-father.

That’s not terrible, but how’s this approach?

“Right on time,” Joe said throwing himself into the chair in front of his parole officer’s messy desk. Olafson looked up from his newspaper, folded it slowly, and put it aside.

“Overslept again?”

“No way. Security for this building sucks. They’re slower than you know what.”

Better? Why? Instead of a chronological narrative––this happened, then this, then this, you jump right into what’s important––the conversation with the parole officer. But it could even better.

F society, Joe said to himself as he wrote 10:59 in the sign-in book even though the clock behind the receptionist read 11:03. I can follow f’ing society’s rules if I want to. I just don’t f’ing choose to do so.

“If you can’t follow society’s rules, you don’t deserve to remain in society,” his parole officer told him when he’d been twenty minutes late to his last appointment.

His mother had told him something similar that morning when he showed up at the diner telling her he needed her car and a twenty for parking.

“Didn’t think I could get here on time, did you?” Joe said flopping down on the chair in front of Olafson’s messy desk.

Olafson checked his watch, then put down his newspaper. “Oversleep again?”

Which one gets you into the story faster? Which one keeps you there?

Transitions that contain emotional content are more likely to keep your readers engaged that straight narrative transitions. Start with your characters’ thoughts or statements, then add the descriptive details of time and place. Your readers will thank you.

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