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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