Transitions establish coherent connections between sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters. In basic terms, transitions direct readers. They show readers what to do with all the information that’s being presented to them. They give readers cues to understanding how our ideas go together.
Without effective transitions, readers are jolted from the story. Think of it like a winding river, readers are floating along blissfully, when suddenly they hit a massive rock in the middle of the river. Ouch! Don’t let readers hit the rock. Guide them around the rock, so they can continue to float contently down the river.
If you get feedback about your writing and the comments contain words like “choppy,” “abrupt,” “how is this related?” etc., then you may need to work on your transitions. Some other hints you need to focus more on your transitions are:
- Readers have trouble following your train of thought (not what’s in your head, but what’s down on the paper – what’s in your story).
- Your story jumps from one idea to another like rapid fire. When people think, their thoughts tend to hop from point A to point B, skipping everything in between. In writing, you have to put at least some of that in between down on paper, at least enough to help readers make the connection you’ve made. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve all read at least one book where we don’t understand how a character reached the conclusion she did. It’s jarring when that happens and we’re left unable to suspend our disbelief.
- Writing in chunks. This is where you don’t write in sequential order. You may write the first three chapters of a novel and then skip to the middle of the novel, or you might write all the romantic scenes before going back and writing the action scenes. It’s perfectly fine to do this…I’ve done this. What’s important to remember is that you can’t just paste these various scenes together. You need to write in transitions.
Each transition is an opportunity to keep readers invested. It’s also a chance to have them smash into that rock in the middle of the river.
Here are some tips on avoiding that rock:
It’s easier to have smooth transitions when a novel is from one point of view (POV). However, many writers elect to have multiple POVs throughout their story. The key to making a multiple POV novel successful is by having clear transitions from one character to another. This doesn’t just mean putting the character’s name at the start of each chapter, but also making each character distinct from the others. If your characters sound the same (and this especially applies to first person narratives), then people will forget halfway through the chapter which character’s perspective they’re reading from. (I don’t know about you, but that’s one of my pet peeves in literature. I can’t stand being partway through a chapter and suddenly having no idea which character’s perspective I’m reading from.)
Regardless of whether or not your novel’s one POV or multiple, creating smooth breaks between chapters is important. How a chapter ends should entice readers to move on to the next chapter. If you’ve ever done or watched relay racing, the break between chapters is the hand off, where the baton transitions from runner A to runner B.
When you’re ending a chapter, think about what you want readers to take to the next chapter. What should they worry about? What should peak their interest? If you can’t answer these questions, then the chapter hasn’t moved the story forward (each chapter should bring something new to the story).
Other things to consider:
- What triggers the chapter to end?
- Why does a new chapter begin where it does?
- Has the tension increased? Changed in any way?
Like chapters, every paragraph should have a point. Paragraph transitions let readers know when you’re connecting two ideas or moving on to a new topic. They bring continuity to a novel.
Paragraphs do not exist in a vacuum, therefore it’s vital to have each paragraph unfolding into the next. A good way to think of this is like a puzzle. Each paragraph is a puzzle piece and they all must fit together to create a coherent and engaging whole.
In order to create smooth paragraph transitions, you need to identify how the paragraphs are related (find the relationship between them). Some questions to ask yourself: Does the next paragraph make a similar point? A new point? Provide emphasis? Elaborate? Contradict the previous information?
Once you know the relationship, you can choose words or phrases to aid in paragraph transitions. These can be more traditional statements, like “also” or “in addition to,” or they can be more like clues being dropped for readers to collect. Paragraphs should unfold information to readers in such a way that readers feel they’re the ones piecing things together, not being told the story.
Transition sentences are usually the first line of a new paragraph. However, you can also find them as the last line. And then, each sentence must relate to the next one.
As with paragraphs, you can use words like “now” to help smooth over your transitions. Imagery is also a great way to bridge sentences because it’s what shows the five senses. In the end, if you have a common denominator, you can connect any sentence to another sentence.
For example, “I’ve never been much of a people person. I tend to prefer sitting off by myself and living in a dream world. My imagination is much more interesting than day-to-day life, but when I met Sarah, that all changed. Her fantasies were just as grand as mine. We’d spend hours off in the woods together fighting trolls and goblins, rescuing babies that suddenly transformed into fire-breathing dragons. One even turned into a unicorn, except it tried to kill us with its horn and when it farted toxic rainbows came out of its butt.”
Creating those smooth transitions takes practice. The more practice, the better. And like with almost everything in writing, most transitions aren’t going to be perfect the first time through, and that’s okay. When you’re editing, you’ll go back and work on honing them.
Have you ever gotten feedback on “choppy” writing and weren’t sure what to do? Did you know what to do?