Writing Devices: Transitions, Part 2


For those of us who believe in time travel, no, it isn’t Wednesday. You didn’t enter an inter-dimensional port or a time travel machine and jump ahead a day. Nor were you spelled by an evil mage to sleep around the clock. And yes, even *I* know it’s not Wednesday. Misty allowed me to switch days, which I needed, so tune in tomorrow for Misty. (Thank you, Misty!)

Last week I did Part one of Transitions. Take a peek back if you missed it, Here.

First, because there are other uses of the word *then* I need to clarify that *then* used in dialogue and in a POV character’s thoughts is a fine and dandy word. Use away. In those instances of use, it disappears just like if, and, the, and if. But when used as a transitional device, it has to be used carefully, or it becomes a lazy writer’s crutch.

Here is an example of one time I had to use it. I needed to use it. I wrote the scene several ways, but I kept coming back to *then*.

I was standing naked, damp, and chilled in my bedroom staring at my new leathers when the remaining wards on the house shuddered and spat. An electric banshee wail sounded, Molly’s alarm when something magical attacked.

My front door vibrated with a massive thump I could feel through the floor. Then I smelled vamp.

Chapter 15
Hedge of Thorns

In one move, I pulled the shotgun and a vamp-killer, blade back for in-close street fighting, and advanced to the front door, planting my feet with care, balanced and ready. My heart sped, my breath went deep and fast. Beast’s claws tore into my belly, ready to fight. But the front door was closed. No one had broken through Molly’s ward.
[End of Segment]

Here is a transition done with a simple text break:

[We saw them] “In the Quarter a couple times. In the Warehouse District once. Bliss has a regular, a vamp client who sends a car for her and brings her to an upscale apartment in the district, so she’s there pretty often. Tia has a regular on Royal Street she sees twice a week. Don’t know about it being the same group, but it was the same glamour each time. Middle aged, dowdy, a little plump. Why?”

“Not sure. But would you pass the word? Next time someone sees them, call me? I’d like to get a look. 

Christie rolled her eyes. “Sure. Whatever.” She slid a punk-pink cell phone across to me. “It isn’t working yet, but you can input your number. Then get outta here. I need my beauty sleep.”
[Text Break]

I parked Bitsa in public parking near the front door of the NOPD on South Broad Street. The power was back on here, traffic lights working, air conditioners humming, marked units whizzing out to answer calls. I wasn’t armed, but I did have my cell phone, change for vending machines if I got hungry, a spiral notebook, and a camera. And here, the cell towers were up and running. Sweet.
[End of segment]

This kind of transition is the easiest (in my opinion) and readers accept the meaning of the extra line space. It is unconscious, uncomplicated, and undemanding. But overusing it comes with a price tag. If you do this too often, it begins to jump out at the reader and disrupt the story experience. I have a 25 page section in my WIP where I do it too much and will have to correct it in the rewrite.

Another similar one, but this is one that flowed into the future without the need for a text break at all.

I wasn’t expecting an apology. My estimation of the man went up a notch. Men who had the capacity to apologize—and who knew the right words to do it with—were few and far between. I’m not a whiz at social situations, and an apology wasn’t something I was emotionally prepared to deal with. “Okay,” I said, sounding far less gracious than he. Voices and the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs were about to put a stop to our conversation, thankfully

Rick glanced at the empty doorway. “So, who’s your escort tonight?” he asked quickly.

“George Dumas.”

Rick’s eyes went wide just as Molly and the kids entered the room, effectively ending the chat. But I could see the sharpened interest in his gaze and I knew the subject would come up again. Soon. Rick was professionally interested in George. And I had to wonder why.

The rest of the day went by fast and I found myself enjoying it, even knowing that Rick was hanging around to see what would happen when my “date” arrived. The temps heated up in the un-air-conditioned house, the world all muggy and sweaty, despite the windows Molly threw open. The smell of slow-cooked beef built and poured out into the steamy day. The four of us played kiddie board games and Go Fish with Angie until she fell asleep, exhausted from the heat, and then we played Hearts until our supper of slow-cooked steaks and double-stuffed potatoes was done.
[End of segment]

The transition The rest of the day, transitions well, and unlike a text break transition, this kind can be used as often as a writer wants.

This text break marks a physical and setting transition that requires a description because Jane has never been here before. It slows down the pace, which is unfortunate, but I have no choice:

“I accept that. Leo will eventually accept it as truth. Until then I’ll do what I can to keep him away from you. Will you help? For the city’s safety?”

I shook my head, but it wasn’t a no, it was frustration. “What do you want me to do?”

“Simply listen at the party, and if you hear anything unusual, tell me.” That wry smile twisted his features again, this time seeming contrite. “Because of Leo’s scent, you’ll be free and safe to go anywhere you wish.” I glared at him and he had the grace to grin in apology, which transformed his face, making him look younger. “And because you aren’t me, and because you smell like dessert underneath Leo’s scent, they may speak freely. You might hear something that could avert this war.” When I didn’t reply, he insisted, “If there is war, humans, many humans, will die.”

Crap. He played the human card. I sighed. “Yeah, sure. If I hear anything, I’ll share. Why not?” I glared at Bruiser. “But you keep that blood-sucking vamp away from my house.”

“Katie’s house,” Bruiser said softly.

I blew out a breath. “Well, that put me in my place, didn’t it?”
[Text Break]

The Warehouse District was just what it sounded like, the place where, once upon a time, boat captains off-loaded merchandise and took on fresh wares for the next port, and where masters of industry and commerce stored it, sold it, and made their fortunes. But the formerly utilitarian buildings had been redone into artsy and expensive apartments, lofts, restaurants, and galleries.

The street in front of the Old Nunnery was packed on both sides with parked cars, each with a driver waiting inside, in the dark, or standing beside it, watching the night. Each man had the look of ex-military, wore an earpiece, and had well-toned and deadly brawn. I was betting they wore enough weapons to start Bruiser’s war, too. We pulled through the narrow roadway between the vehicles and up to the old building.
[End of segment]

I let the text break do double duty for me here. Jane went from irritated to unwilling acceptance before the text break, to curious and in a different location after the text break. I also let the break begin ratcheting up the tension, with the words: the look of ex-military, wore an earpiece, and had well-toned and deadly brawn. I was betting they wore enough weapons to start Bruiser’s war, too. 

Transitions that do double duty (triple? more?) are my favorite kind of transitions, but all transitions work like a mountain river as it flows downstream. The goal (if you believe that water is alive and has goals) is to get to the bottom of a mountain, to transition from the top of a range, to a lake, and then to the sea. But it has other goals too. It is a passageway for migrating fish. It carries away animal waste. It allows rain to find an outlet and not sit on top of the ground creating swamps. It (unwittingly) makes transportation up- and downstream for humans and animals. It makes great kayak runs. J It carves the mountain away, exposing and even moving rocks and boulders, undercutting banks and trees as it reshapes the landscape. It feeds and waters the Earth. It changes things. And that is what a good transition does. It changes things.

Every part of a story can be considered as a constant transition from emotion to emotion, from action to action, from conflict to resolution. I hope you found these posts on transitions useful.





14 comments to Writing Devices: Transitions, Part 2

  • Unicorn

    These fascinating snippets from your book are driving me nuts! I am positively drooling to read the Jane Yellowrock novels 🙂
    Thanks for the posts – they’ll definitely help me to polish up my own transitions a little.

  • 🙂 No doubt that there’s method to my madness, Unicorn. But also, using my own work is so easy. For each kind of transition, I just had to do a search for certain words, or scan for page breaks or text breaks or chapter headers. Easy peasy, as JY might say.

  • The transition The rest of the day, transitions well, and unlike a text break transition, this kind can be used as often as a writer wants.

    You know, when I first started writing, I tended to follow my characters around for every minute of their lives, until I finally realized that I could skip the parts where nothing much happened. Because even mighty heroes have a little downtime in their days. Wow! Who’d have guessed? *smile*

  • So many different kinds of transitions, so many uses. This is great stuff, Faith. You’re going to fill up the second volume of MW’s How-To book before the first one even comes out!

  • This is great, Faith. Thanks for tackling something that is so easy to ignore and treat as meaningless. It’s the little things like this that will make a big difference.

    I thought of another reason that I use “then” a lot. It’s one of those words that seems to make the most sense (at first) to use when describing actions in a sequence. In order to avoid something like, “Opening the door, I ran down the hillside” (which suggests the two actions are happening at once) I would say, “I opened the door, then ran down the hillside.” (I hope this makes sense, but I’m trying to think of an example before my morning coffee kicks in.) Thanks!

  • Misty, I had the same problem. But about some things no one wants the details! Ick… 🙂

    Edmund. Oy. Let’s just get through the first one!

  • Moira, finding fresh ways to show sequential events is so very important. And so *hard*! I still struggle with it. Sometimes concentrating on the things the character feels helps break it up. (So little actual, usable advice!)

  • Part 2 — every bit as wonderful as Part 1. Thanks Faith! 🙂

  • Love “Then I smelled vamp.” No matter how familiar a word like “then” it can be extremely effective when used sparingly and with punch. Sweet.

  • These examples are terrific, Faith. When used properly (as with “Then I smelled vamp,” which I also love) they do more than move the plot and characters from one place and time to another. They actually propel the story forward, adding momentum. You do that very well.

  • Faith> Like everyone else said, great post! And you make it look easy, which is really cool! 🙂

    Misty> I used to do that… the whole “follow every minute of their lives” thing. Except that, for me, it is describe everything they do. Every single thing. Because that’s how I see it. So now I have to cut a lot in editing. If a gesture or movement isn’t important (either moves the plot, character, or is necessary for reader understanding) it goes.

  • Stuart, AJ, thank you. Between book one (still unpub’d) and book two (which sold instantly) I took a class at Winthrop given by a critically acclaimed writer. His teaching method was: read an example, write an example. Because I am one of those people who only learn by doing, it was a very effective method for me.

  • David, exactly. Everything in a story should have forward momentum. But that is *so* hard to do!

  • Pea F Emily. Thank you. Practice helps, but it isn’t ever easy!