Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Transitions-lead readers from one cliff(hanger) to another...AND GIVEAWAY!!!
Photo taken of hiking trail cliff crevice near my home.
(Article reprinted from eHarlequin 2009)
Creating strong transitions is something I've been striving to do better in my work. Transitions are the passage from one scene (or chapter or POV switch) to the next. Most often, you can link the two by one hooky sentence out and one hooky sentence in.
All strong transitions need to contain hooks in my opinion. Each transition sentence or paragraph at the end of a scene or time or chapter break should keep the reader turning pages. I recommend you not do anything that would give the reader an excuse to set the book down.
Oftentimes you will hear people say about a book, "It was a page-turner" or "I couldn't put it down" or "I stayed up and read the entire thing." In those stories, pay particular attention to how the author executed their transitions. I'd venture to guess that most of the time, the author has great hooks in and out of their chapters or scene breaks or POV switches. Strong transitions can alleviate episodic writing. Oftentimes, episodic writing (writing that is just a series of events that have no overall story arc) contains weak transitions.
An example would be ending the scene or chapter with the character going to sleep and then beginning the next scene or chapter with the character waking up. You don't have to show every detail of a character's daily living. Weak transitions slow pacing and can lead to drab sections where the characters are just going along, mundane, about their daily routine but nothing significant is happening to chain one scene or chapter to the next.
Strong hooks in and out of your scenes or chapters make for excellent transitions. Most authors work very hard to make the opening hook of their book strong. But you need to strive to write EVERY first and last scene/chapter sentence as though it were your first one. The most logical place for a character’s POV switch is also during a strong transition which occurs during a scene, time or chapter break.
Many (but not all) strong transitions leave the reader hanging either by an unresolved conflict or a brand new crisis that arises right at the end of the scene or chapter. I’ve also seen great transitions that allude to the developing relationship in romance. Hints of attraction. Wonder at the emotions forming for the opposite character, etc. So strong transitions don’t just have to be some sort of crisis, danger or calamity. It can be a poignant hook that denotes for the reader a change in the heroine’s heart, where it’s bending toward the hero for example.
Transitions should make sense and flow smoothly. In the book I'm working on now, my editors marked a couple of places with the words, "Good transition!" Two or three books ago, I was struggling to make strong transitions. So I'll provide one good example one bad example from my work. The bad example was mentioned above. I had a bad habit of having my characters end the scene with dinner or bedtime. Then I would begin the next scene or chapter with breakfast or waking up. There's nothing wrong with doing that if you do it sparingly and or if you need only one day's passage between your story timeline. BUT, I was using that transition device for a lot of my scene or chapter breaks. B-O-R-I-N-G! LOL! My editors urged me to strengthen the transitions on edits. On recent books I've tried harder to focus on strong transitions.
In the recently line-edited one, (the good example) the hero is having a conversation with his pararescue teammates about the heroine, who is a Christian. He's not yet a believer and knows she won't date him unless he commits his life to Christ. The other thing he knows is that if he ever comes to God, it has to be on God's terms and not for the sake of the heroine. That's the story set-up. His PJ (pararescue jumper) teammate mentions his spending more time with the heroine, who he supposedly didn't like because she crashed her sizzling red sedan into his custom built motorcycle and kept him from a mission. I ended that chapter with the hero responding in dialogue to his teammate, "…besides, we'd never fall for one another. She has a strong idea about the kind of guy she wants to spend the rest of her life with. And I definitely do not fit that description."
The next chapter switches to heroine’s POV. They’ve discovered they have a common goal in reaching out to at-risk teens and have been hanging out together. She's waiting for the hero to come pick her up for a motorcycle ride. Her aunt, living with her, peeks out the window and says, "He definitely fits the description." What is happening there is the aunt has wanted to meet the hero and the heroine is describing his manner of dress. That part is assumed from context. But this transition worked because, though I was talking about two different things related to his description, it worked to be a hooky transition because of clever wordage and truths and a foreshadowing of the hero/heroine’s future destiny together that the reader picks up on before the characters do.
So basically I end one chapter with hero saying, "And I definitely do not fit the description."
The next chapter's first sentence reads, "He definitely fits the description." Elsie peered through the gauzy curtain at Vince who rumbled into her yard.
"Black leather jacket and jeans?" Val dabbed at her nose with powder. Maybe Elsie was too distracted peering at the tall, dark and handsome but brooding PJ to notice her freshening her makeup.
"Quit primping and answer the door. Here he comes." Elsie let the curtain fall back into place and Val raced her to the door knowing Elsie'd give him the third degree if she got to him first.
Elsie has been spurring Val not to get into a romantic relationship with the hero because she (Elsie) married an unbeliever and struggled through thirty years of marriage. Neither wants Val to have to go that, so Elsie is the constant reminder to Val that she must keep her heart at a distance until/unless Vince devotes his heart to God. That has nothing to do with the transition other than to help you understand this example in context.
Another thing a strong transition will do is let the reader know right off the bat, like in the first sentence or second at the latest, whose POV we're in for that scene or chapter.
There are a lot of other things involved in creating strong transitions, but basically, try to make the last sentence of previous scenes or chapters lead into or tie cleverly into the next somehow, even if there's a large passage of time. A transition can be one sentence out and one sentence in. Or it can be one paragraph out and one in. But if you can cull it down from a paragraph to a sentence or two, it will pack more punch.
I'd love to hear examples of great transitions from your own WIPs or from books you've recently read. Do share! Thanks for spending time with me today. Happy transitioning! Warmly, Cheryl
A Soldier's Devotion, the book referenced in this article, releases in January 2010 from Steeple Hill Love Inspired.
Speaking of...I'm giving away to two lucky (I hope!) Seekervillains (that's you) a free copy each of Soldier Daddy and A Soldier's Reunion, my June and October Wings of Refuge books from Steeple Hill. To be entered, leave a comment with your e-mail address. Insert brackets somewhere in it so phishers/net spiders don't troll your addy. Deadline to enter is this Friday, August 21 at Midnight CST. I'll notify the winner over the weekend and possibly have our fantabulous Tina post their name on the Weekend Edition. Two books. Two winners. Be sure to leave us your e-mail address so we may get in touch with you if you win.