Have you ever started writing the end of a scene and realize you can’t get out of it? You’ve finished the scene and need to get to the next one, but then you get overwhelmed when you realize how much distance is between the two scenes. You’re drowning in thoughts of, “They have to get all the way across the house,” or “Nothing exciting happens until that night,” or “But Mordor is leagues away!” When you’re not sure how to end a scene (check out my next post on solid scene endings) you often end up writing a lot of filler words that kill the scene’s impact, bore the reader, or lose your writing momentum.
There are many ways to transition your work from one scene to the next, but today we’ll be talking about slides, summaries, and cuts.
A slide is used for short, chronological amounts of time. You slide the reader’s focus from the last image of your scene to the first image of your next scene, signifying to the reader that you’ve changed setting or time. It’s a great way to skip over the “boring stuff” and maintain the energy of your story. As an example, let’s take this passage I just made up:
Oof. It took me about 90 words to get my characters to the kitchen after their fight in the car. One of the problems that can occur from a writer not knowing how or when to slide is that they keep writing. And while the mantra “a writer writes” is true in most cases, this is not the time. To slide, I can take the reader’s focus from Steven and Hannah in the car, slide it over the icy driveway, and settle on the dirty kitchen without all the clumsy actions. Observe:
31 words. I got the characters out of the car and into the kitchen in half the time, allowing the heat the of the previous argument (let’s all pretend this is part of a larger piece) to linger. Why is this important? By keeping the pacing quick, I can use the heat from the previous scene as a starting point to advance the tension in the next scene. If I had kept that long transition, my readers would lose much of that energy and I’d have to rebuild the momentum for the next scene.
If I really wanted to keep the action moving, I could write:
We slid directly from the car to the kitchen, from one point of conflict to the next. The details about the icy driveway wasn’t critical to either scene, so I cut it. The dirty kitchen may still be important for the kitchen scene, but I can add that in after I get the initial confrontation (“You say we’re good…”) running.
Summaries work well for two reasons: it conveys that a long period of time has passed in which you’re skipping over “boring stuff” to get to the next exciting scene and it informs the reader that during the time we’ve skipped, characters have continued to exist and grow. This is a great way to keep your story moving without bogging us down with all the details. Instead, select a few key details that capture the essence of that time, then bring the reader back into a scene with an indicating phrase such as, “One evening.” Here’s an example from the novel I’m working on:
I selected a few key images to represent the long, monotonous days in the swamp: using branches to point their direction, a snake falling on Erit, the weariness of plodding through mud. Days, maybe weeks, have gone by in this manner, with only boring travel, until I bring the reader back into a scene we can engage in with “…eventually he asked.” This signifies that the summary is over and we’re about to experience something interesting.
Side note: If I wanted to show the development of the character’s relationship through the summary, I could also add a passage like “Over the nightly fire, Dain and Erit would recall memories of their childhood, laughing over the trouble they would often find themselves in. But the days passed in silence…”
3: Scene Cuts
Also known as the blank space, this is by far my favorite transition. It’s also the easiest, most straight-forward way to cut between one scene and the next. All you do is insert a blank line between the two paragraphs, which visually tells the reader that the scene they’ve just read is over, and we’re jumping into a new one. You can skip time, change the setting, or add characters with this transition and the reader will follow. That is, so long as the next scene logically belongs in that place. A scene cut is best used with the “in late, out early” philosophy of scene endings, but we’ll get into that in a later post.
What about you? How do you like to transition between scenes? Share in the comments below!