The Sticky Spot for Writers: Writing those Pesky Transition Scenes

Dark BridgeOne of the stickiest places for writers is when they want to move their characters from Point A to Point B in a story. Sometimes Point A and B are physical places. They might need to get their character from California to China. And sometimes A and B are two points in time, as when their character has to go from high school graduation to an end-of-the-summer scene.

These transitions can be tough for writers. Number one, because there isn’t a whole lot of emotional investment in the transition. It’s just a necessary part of moving the plot along. Number two, most writers tend to overwrite these transition scenes, trying to flesh them out when they don’t need to be fleshed.

I call these transition scenes “bridge sections” because their only real purpose is to connect two parts of the story that actually are important to the overall structure of the work.

When a writer hits a bridge section it can seriously interrupt their momentum. Especially those writers who feel they have to write in strict chronological order and can’t move onto anything new until they write the transition.

I use the same method for bridge sections that I do for things that need to be researched later. Brackets. Whenever I don’t know a detail, I put it in brackets with notes like: [Look this up]…[Find exact year]…or, [Make sure this is correct.]

When you’ve finished writing about your character in California, and you know they have to go to China next and you can see how those scenes will play out, but their actual transport seems fuzzy and confusing, put it in brackets. Make a note to yourself: [Katie somehow gets to China]. And move on.

When you’ve finished the scenes that have to do with the main action, you can go back through your manuscript and make a list of all the bridge sections that are missing. This is where you’re going to get ruthless with yourself. If the reader still needs to see Katie make her way to China, remind yourself that a few simple sentences will work. Something like, She left on a plane the next day and by that Tuesday she was in Shanghai, will work just fine. We don’t need a description of every hour of her flight or how she booked the ticket.

Bridge sections should be brief, direct and contain practical information that shows the reader how we’re moving ahead in time or from one place to another. That is really their only purpose. So if you start to write the bridge section describing how Katie gets to China, and you realize that Katie experiences a huge life-changing emotional epiphany on this flight, you’re no longer dealing with a bridge section. You are now in the territory of a full scene that will need fleshing.

The same thing goes if Katie meets the man of her dreams on this flight, or the plane goes down in flames. Anything that counts as a plot point probably won’t show up in a bridge section. It is only about the transition.

Also, sometimes writers think they need bridge sections when they don’t. Your reader is sometimes more savvy than you give them credit for. Maybe one chapter ends with Katie sitting in her apartment in San Francisco and then the next begins with her walking down a street in Shanghai, thinking about how she’s been there a week already. The audience will catch on, and if they don’t, your beta readers will let you know.

The important thing is to keep moving ahead. Not being sure of how a character makes it from Point A to Point B is no excuse to stop writing altogether. Write about Point A and then write about Point B and save the transition for later. Your top priority is forward momentum. We can’t let those pesky little bridge sections get in the way.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out:

How the Research Vampire Can Suck the Life Out of Your Book

How a Master Writer Manages a Sprawling Story

The Power of Handwriting

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  • Reply Jon Simmonds 10 July, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Oh, those transitions between chapters are the absolute worst. So many of my chapters feel like the reader’s started a whole new book! Not least because I have a penchant for ending a chapter with a good bit of drama or a cliffhanger. I find it confounding to move from there to the opening of the next chapter – possibly, again, because I like to come in quite late in a scene to keep the pace up. Then I find myself retro-fitting by having the POV character somehow contemplating what effect the aforementioned drama has had in the intervening time period. It gets rather complicated!

  • Reply Phillip McCollum 10 July, 2014 at 8:27 am

    Great timing Lauren. I was just in the middle of writing such a scene and hating it… Looks like I may just need to revisit it and sum it up in a few sentences. Thanks for this. 🙂

  • Reply Gisele LeBlanc 10 July, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Great advice, Lauren! I love the bracket idea and this: Your top priority is forward momentum. 🙂

  • Reply Anna 10 July, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Great advice! I like using brackets with notes to remember to add details later, too.

  • Reply Megan 10 July, 2014 at 11:32 am

    Lauren! A friend if mine just recommended I visit your blog and I am so glad I did. I have just received my first edit letter back from a manuscript I’ve written and, though the editor is spot-on in her critiques, the where amount of rewriting and rearranging I should do (if I actually want to follow her advice and make eh book better) is rather daunting. I appreciate blogs like yours though, because they break down the writing process into more manageable chunks. I can chew a little, swallow and move on to the next part. Thanks! I look forward to reading more.

  • Reply Megan 10 July, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Sadly I noticed a few typos in my recent comment. Darn it all! Replying from my phone is always a little risky 🙂

  • Reply K. M. Alexander 10 July, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Early on I tended to find I spent way too much time muddling with transition scenes. I’d even go so far as saying it slowed me down more than anything else. I’d get bogged down getting characters from A to B instead of focusing on plot and scenes that *really* mattered.

    You’re right, most of the time all it ends up taking is a single sentence. Readers are smart, they’ll figure it out.

    Fantastic advice.

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 13 July, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    That’s why I love writing on a computer – it is 3D. There is no need for the process to be chronological, you can dive in at any stage of your story and add, subtract or switch sciences with a few clicks. I feel for the pen and paper writers of yesteryear.

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