Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting From Here To There: Transitions by Winnie Griggs

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 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.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Christmas Journey by Winnie Griggs.


  1. Winnie,

    Transitions are one of my weaknesses so I really appreciate this.

    For some reason, I have the most trouble with the first one after the hook. I mean, I'll sometimes start off very generally, but then it's hard to get them grounded, about where they are and what's going on right at the start.

    Maybe you have visited before? If you have a chance, would you mind giving a couple sentences about how you landed a contract with Steeple Hill?

    I'd love to win the book.

    Since I'm early, I'm going to serve up blueberry pancakes. I also have warm biscuits with apple butter.

    cathy underscore shouse at yahoo dot com

  2. Thanks Winnie,
    Transitions can be tough, I think. I've recently been trying to make each scene matter, including the transitions, which can be painful sometimes. When you have to cut scenes - perfectly good scenes - because they do not add to the story, it can be tough (or is that just pride :-)

    Do you have a certain type of transition you find more effective or easier than others?

    I'm going to put on some coffee to go with Cathy's yummy blueberry pancakes


  3. Wonderful post. However, I need more coffee so this great advice can sink in better. :-)

    Would love to win he book.


  4. Good morning. The usual suspects are here I see. I brought peach butter myself. Made a ton of it

    Transitions scare me. I often read mine and laugh aloud thinking they feel so cliché.

    Later that morning, she reached for another biscuit wondering how Winnie made them look so easy. The transitions, not the biscuits.

    Debraemarvin at yahoooooooo

  5. Winnie,

    Thanks for all the examples showing transition changes. I usually use time transitions, like the weather didn't cooperate and the trip was postponed a week. I never considered using an object, like your baseball example.


  6. Thanks for these examples, Winnie. All my transitions seem so lame. And that was one thing that I got dinged on in my first few contest entries. My transitions weren't smooth. Still something I need to work on.

  7. Good morning, Winnie, and welcome to Seekerville! Great subject, by the way! I think everybody has trouble with transitions, at least I know I do. It takes work to transition a reader seamlessly from one place to another, but you've given us a wealth of ways to do that -- thank you!

    And I really like your covers, by the way, especially the Hand-Me-Down Family one -- very inviting.


  8. I love Winnie's stories and have been studying them as I write my own historical. Thanks for visiting Seekerville today and PLEASE put me in the drawing for your lovely Christmas book. The cover looks beautiful!

    Patty Hall

  9. Hi Winnie!

    Wow!!! You're a pro at transitions. The post showed me new ways to move my characters from point A to point B without missing a beat. I'm impressed and inspired.

    From now on, I promise to write Winnie Griggs-style transitions.

    Can't wait to get your Christmas release. Love the cover!!!

  10. Today's my daughter's birthday so I brought cake and ice cream. Enjoy!

    Now I'm off to wrap gifts and bake a real cake. :)

  11. Oh my, you folks are making me absolutely drool with all this talk of breakfast foods. Makes my cereal and milk seem absolutely pitiful!

    Thanks for the warm welcome!

  12. Thanks for the great tips and examples! Now I'll spend the rest of my day mulling over ways to smooth out my transitions. :-)

  13. Cathy,
    I had previously written 5 historicals for Dorchester before moving on to Steeple Hill. I'd been resisting the call to write inspirationals for several years due to fear - could I do justice to such an awesome calling? Then God very firmly closed some doors to me and I realized how 'me centered' I had been and that He was really in control.

    As for how the contract from Steeple Hill came about, I met with Melissa Endlich at an ACFW conference and pitched a couple of ideas to her. The following summer, at an RWA conference she offered me a two book contract. Gotta love those writer conferences!!

  14. Blueberry pancakes.


    Thanks, Cathy!!!

    And Winnie, this was WONDERFUL stuff about transitions. So smooth. Tailor-made. Marvelous.

    I liked your quick-snap POV scene switch and I love that no one made you change it. It's plain as day and so succinct, and keeps the book moving forward.

    Now I'm going to read more comments and make fun of people. Deb, how'm I doin' on the white space, chica???

    Ruthy (gulping coffee and monging pancakes. Sooooo good.)

  15. Pepper,
    (Love that name!). I guess my favorite way to transition is by using 'mood' triggers. But I have to watch that I don't overuse it and mix things up a bit.

  16. Walt - thanks for the comment - you're definitely in the drawing!

    Debra - LOL Glad you clarified 'not the biscuits'. Baking was never my strong suit

    Rose - glad the post helped.

  17. Melanie - you're welcome! And I don't by any means claim to be an expert on this. It's one of those things I really have to pay attention to as I go back in and polish my drafts

    Julie - thanks for the welcome and the kind words. As for the covers, Steeple Hill does a fabulous job with them don't they? I've been VERY please with the ones they've given me so far.

  18. Interesting post, Winnie. I think transitions play such a powerful role in the overall flow of a story. Not just to ease those big shifts, but even the little ones. Sometimes I stuggle for hours just trying to find the best way to get my heroine across the room. (grin)

    Thanks for shedding light on a topic that often lurks in the shadows.

    P.S. I'm about 100 pages into Hand-Me-Down Family and am thoroughly enjoying it.

    ~Karen Witemeyer

  19. Anonymous/Patty
    Oooh, thanks for the kind words about my book - really made my morning.

    LOL - a pro I'm NOT, but thanks for the nice words. And Happy Birthday to your daughter!

  20. Sarah and Ruth
    Hi! Thanks for the kind words about the post - glad you found some take-aways

  21. Great post I am not a writter but sure enjoy y'll that is, You make it sound so easy, but I can't ever write a good review, just have to stumble alone.

  22. Karen - I hear you about struggling to find just the right transition. For such a small slice of words they do cause quite a bit of headache.

    And thanks for letting me know you're enjoying the book!! Always a fun thing for a writer to hear :)

  23. Edna
    Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post - glad you enjoyed it

  24. I remember working with my critique group and Christy Barritt used to tell me, 'get this rooted clearly, immediately in someone's point of view'.

    At the time I didn't quite see why but I obeyed her. Now when I read my own work I'm so clear about getting the POV character nailed down instantly in a new scene. I had to learn that though.

    I also try to make scene breaks really hard and clear and fun. If there's not an action moment, a cliff hanger moment, then I try and do it by playing with words, just to hook the old chapter and make the reader eager to see what I'll do with the next chapter.

    These are usually transition moments, too. And I love them.
    Great post, Winnie.

  25. Nice examples. I find reading aloud helps me tell where my transitions failed, and these are some great ideas for mending them.

  26. Hi Mary! I've read your work and you always do a WONDERFUL job with your transitions.

  27. I always wonder how best to get from here to there, be it location, time, etc. Not a topic that gets a lot of blog attention, so thank you much for the insights.

  28. Sheila, Great tip. I also find reading aloud helps find weak spots in my work.

    PatriciaW, thanks for stopping in to leave a comment and glad you enjoyed the post

  29. The transitions, at least for me, do take the most work to get them right. Since my WIP takes us from the 70s to the present, I have used time transitions in many places. Your post gave me needed confidence that I'm on track. Thanks.

  30. Lily - glad I could help. And yes, covering a 40 year period would require some significant transitions!

  31. Thanks for joining us, Winnie!

    Great examples of transitions. Much better than rambling on for paragraphs trying to eat up time!

  32. Audra - thanks for the welcome. Seekerville is a really fun place to visit. And glad you liked the examples.

  33. It was a treat to meet you, Winnie, in Denver! This is great advice and your stories sound wonderful! Blessings,
    carrie (at) turansky (d0t) com

  34. Hi, Winnie! This was such a helpful post. I often struggle with transitions, but this information will really come in handy. Thanks.

  35. This is just awesome, Winnie. Thanks so much for this informative post. This is the kind of thing you just print up and use to help edit a manuscript.

  36. Carrie - great to meet you too! I enjoyed the people-interaction part of the ACFW conference as much as the learning ops

    Cara Lynn - glad you found a good take-away from the post.

    Tina - What a super nice thing to say. Thanks!

  37. Hello, Winnie! Excellent advice on what's important to include and what is safe to omit. A glaring omission is just as distracting as too much minute information. Proper pacing is essential, especially with a lengthy historical. gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  38. Thanks for the excellent post on transitions. Your suggestions will certainly come in handy as I continue to write.

    Your books sound wonderful. I look forward to reading them!

  39. Sorry for posting so late! Yesterday was....crazy to say the least.

    Winnie, great post! I'm not really a writer as far as books go, but in my essays for AP English 12...I'm not so great at transitioning from one paragraph to the next. So, thanks for the information!

  40. Virginia, Lynn Project Journal - thank you all for your kind words. Glad you found some useful tidbits in the post and appreciate your leaving comments