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Mini-transitions

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Incanus, Dec 7, 2016.

  1. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    I’ve been working on a handful of chapters lately that have a niggling little problem. Technically I’m revising, but there is so much fresh material that it really feels like a first draft.

    Anyway, the nature of this part of the story requires some smallish segments and short scenes. The problem is in the way I’ve linked many of these bits together. It’s really bad tell-y kind of stuff, variations of “Later that night/After they had started moving again/While they took a short break”, etc.

    It’s really awful stuff, very ‘first-draft’. But I feel a need to bring up how much time has passed, or how much later one segment is in relation to another.

    So my questions: are there other, better techniques for accomplishing this sort of thing? Or, do I even need to include these factoids at all?

    Related questions: Would breaks in the narrative work, to imply the passage of time? What about using blank spaces, or the ‘three asterisks’ thing-y, in the text, to break up the narrative that way? Is there a difference between those two things?

    Why am I so hung up on this? Am I over-thinking again?
     
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Breaking a scene with *** is only effective up to a point, in my opinion. It does establish that the time and place (or the POV character) has changed, but sometimes more clarification is needed if it's not immediately recognizable through conflict (i.e. if you transition from day to night, a simple mention of the moon or stars would probably do). A few instances of "As they moved on" or whatever shouldn't hurt your story too badly, though.
     
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  3. spectre

    spectre Sage

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    Are these transitions not a good time to begin a new chapter?

    Sent from my Alcatel_4060O using Tapatalk
     
  4. yachtcaptcolby

    yachtcaptcolby Minstrel

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    If it's a consistent thing, maybe use your “Later that night/After they had started moving again/While they took a short break” stuff as almost a heading or a chapter title. Set it apart, bold it, put an ellipsis after it, whatever. Make it a stylistic thing rather than a problem.
     
  5. Jackarandajam

    Jackarandajam Troubadour

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    I've heard it's best to start in the middle of some action, so what I've been trying to do is change this:

    ---
    The next morning, they packed up camp, ate a quick breakfast, and started again before the sun was up. After a few miles of hiking, the long previous day began to catch up with them.
    "The doctor's gonna take both my feet next time I get a checkup," Toma said between heavy breaths.
    ---

    To this:

    ---
    "The doctor's gonna take both my feet next time I get a checkup," Toma said between heavy breaths.
    They had packed up camp, had a quick breakfast, and started again before the sun was up. After a few miles of hiking, the long previous day was starting to catch up with them.
    ---

    It's a crappy example, but you get the idea. I think pushing the "catch-up" a few lines down adds interest to the transitions. I have a bunch of them too.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2016
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  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    One rule I have set for myself is to never end on an "and then", always end on a "but."

    I'll explain.

    In basic scene/sequel structure, you would start with stating the group or MC's goal, then show them trying to achieve that goal, then have that attempt end in disaster. The disaster is the "but"...

    So, if the group has a goal of getting to a village fifty miles away through a snow storm, then I would show them trying to achieve that goal... perhaps having to fabricate snowshoes out of tree bark, or build a sled from the carcass of a dead horse, or whatever it is they have to do to get through the snow storm and reach the city.

    However, I wouldn't end on them reaching the city and sitting down for a nice cup of joe. When you do that then you end up with scene breaks that feel like a never ending series of "and then....and then... and then..."

    "And then, after a short drink at the tavern the troupe continued on their way to deliver the letter to the priest."

    These sorts of transitions are kind of boring and can be a sign that you need something to be happening there.

    So, instead of ending on a break I would end on a "but."

    The troupe created their snowshoes out of tree bark and build a sled out of a dead horse and also had to battle wolves along the way. They arrived at the city... but...

    The very priest they had come to see is dead! And not only that, the killer knows they carry the secret letter and is coming for them next....

    So, the group decides to split up. One-half of the group will take the letter to the king, the other half will create a diversion to distract the murderous villain. They set of off their separate ways...

    But...

    You get the idea. If the scene ends on something that can start again with "And then, in the morning"... or "And then, after a hot dinner," or "And then, after a short break," then it might be a sign that the plot is dragging and most of those words are unnecessary filler.

    Keep the scenes short and snappy. Each scene should lead into the next scene with a "but", not an "and then."


    Does that make sense?
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2016
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  7. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    One approach you might consider since these are all short scenes in which you probably aren't delivering any surprises to the reader, but you do want to convey travel, logistics, scenery, etc., would be to have the characters involved to discuss what lays ahead of them, especially if some of them don't know already and some do. Let the dialogue do the work for you. Then skip the actual telling of what happens and get on with the story that would have followed all those troublesome short scenes.
     
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  8. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Thanks folks. Some nice responses here.

    So I can't really make the individual sections into different chapters--they are way to short for that. Most are around half a page to two pages long.

    I'm already using the asterisk breaks, but there are still far too many of the 'tell-y' things I mentioned. Like Ireth said, a few of these are OK, I just have too many, too close together.

    I've also used a few transitions that jump from scene to scene, sort of like Helio and Mr. Eidson mentioned. (However, there are no towns involved, and also, due to story circumstances, no one actually knows what lays ahead--so that kind of dialogue won't work here.)

    The solution might be manifold: use as many different types of transitions as I can get my hands on, but I also might be able to edit out a few of these small sections to keep the sheer number of them down. I may very well be overdoing the logistical stuff in the first place--I may not need ALL of it.

    I shall continue to fiercely hold my belief that revision and editing can work wonders. I bet these sections look better after two or three more editing passes.
     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Yeah, I'd use multiple methods for your transitions, although I do think that using typographical things like the three asterisks pretty much means you'd always have to use those three asterisks between scenes. A simple extra line break should be just as good.

    One of the more basic strategies is simply to signpost the change in context early in each scene. So if the party settles down to eat second breakfast at the end of one scene, the next scene could open something like this:

    "By Lothar's Goat, Hermint, you didn't have to eat all the apple pastries we had!"

    Hermint shrugged and avoided Serpina's eyes. She had made the complaint five times now, so he was getting good practice pretending to scan the rocky trail for loose stone that could trip an incautious Hobbit.


    So...you could signal the passage of time by referencing events that happened off-stage between the two scenes.

    Or, you could reference a change in daylight, sun/moon position, location, and so forth that would have required the passage of time.

    Basically, you can use content rather than those phrases (after ___, later ______, etc.) to signal a change in context and time.
     
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  10. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    Thanks Fifth.

    I was thinking about the three asterisk thing last night. Up until this point, I had only needed a small handful of these kinds of breaks, but now that I see I'll be needing more of them, I'm thinking about using blank lines instead. What is the difference between the two, if any?

    I do have some "context transitions", for lack of a better term, in there as well. But those were harder to come up with, and won't fit every situation.

    Ugh. It's going to take some work to clean up this mess...
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Only a half page in length? The first thing I would ask is: can it be cut? Seems like that's not enough space to do anything more than tell. Each of those minis needs to justify not merely its existence but its indispensability. Only once they can make themselves unkill-able should you worry about the transition itself.
     
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  12. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

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    I'll certainly consider cutting some of it. Nothing is off the table when it comes to this section. The risk will be confusing the reader, creating gaps as I leap over relevant info. Of course, it all felt relevant and un-killable at the time, but it wouldn't be the first time I was wrong.

    Case by case; it's gonna be tricky.
     
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  13. Alyssa

    Alyssa Troubadour

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    Keep on going, you'll get there in the end.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    It's too ambitious to help much in the present predicament, but if you have time, read one or two of Patrick O'Brian's books. He pulls off the jump as well as anyone. Yes, it can be a bit disorienting at times, but I came to appreciate what he was about.
     
  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Alternatively, instead of cutting, you could look at combining some of them.

    I have a book sitting on my Kindle, unread, that I'd bought because it had decent Amazon reviews, was from an author whose name I'd encountered many times, and was in a genre I like but that suffers from a limited supply. I thought I'd finally found another good book in that genre. But it opens with a lot of short scenes that have a strobe-like feel, skipping from conversation/scene to conversation/scene that are, individually, focused in the present or immediate activity but that on the whole aren't greatly separated in context and time. I've tried reading the book a couple times but I just can't get past those scenes. There's no connective tissue; they could have been consolidated into fewer but longer scenes with transition paragraphs between the focus on present activity.

    I don't know the situation of your story or the types of scenes you are using, so I don't know if this will work, but there's nothing wrong with using transition paragraphs within a scene. Especially in the case of extended travel scenes. There doesn't need to be a separate scene for each time the party members stop or launch into a new conversation topic.
     
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  16. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

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    One exercise I could recommend is to write one sentence for each scene. Leave out any references to the passage of time. Just get the core essence of each scene down. Put your sentences all together in one paragraph or two, and see how they read. It's bound to be "telling" instead of "showing" when you do this, but it could give you a different perspective on the whole big picture. Sometimes different perspectives will help open up other options for you when your brain is balking at the task before it.
     
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  17. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    My instinct would also be to chop/merge/massage that many short scenes, but without seeing the passages in question, it's hard to know. I struggle a lot with transitions as well, so I don't have much advice, but one thing that I don't think has been mentioned is to use content as your bridge, rather than just the passage of time. Some thread of conflict. This would require looking deep into why these scenes are connected, what's happening between them, why they all lead together. A not-great example:

    Okay, maybe that's little better than the transition phrase alone, but it at least provides some continuity.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
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  18. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

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    I decided early on to be consistent in my transitional usage. So I tend to use only two methods for transitions that are too small or insubstantial to require their own full chapter.

    I use the triple asterisk when I stay with the same characters in the same party, but move from character to character. I also use it when I wish to make a time change with that same group of characters.

    But when I make a scene change that involves different characters and takes place in a different place, I use a solid line about two inches long to make a transitional break that appears more powerful and distinctive.

    Some of my chapters are only two pages long, and some are almost thirty pages. But when I change chapters, that new segment must have enough strength to carry the load of its own chapter. If it doesn't, then I make the necessary transitional breaks within the same chapter, as I mentioned above.

    Of course, we all develop techniques that work best for us. Sometimes it just takes a little time to find what's most comfortable for us.

    Good luck to you, Incanus. I know you can find what works best for you. But as with most aspects of writing, nothing seems to come easily. So, hang in there, my friend.
     
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  19. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Mini-transitions are a great way to move a story forward, and I like to think of them as bridges between scenes.

    I tend to use some sort of object or thought to bridge the gap.



    1. It was the second time in as many days, that she...

    2. And if that wasn't bad enough, it happened again the next day, too...

    3. The next time he heard those words, it was under very different circumstances...

    4. When it rains, it pours, and it had been pouring for six days, which made the horses nervous and the people grumpy...

    5. Why was everyone alway so (adjective)? It started when NAME did (action), and ended when NAME did (bigger action)...

    6. What had started out a good week became a bad week when they met the (something) for the third time...

    7. ...but all that looked a little more possible when the scrubland turned greener and the mountains faded from view.

    8. ...and it couldn't have come soon enough, because the next day...

    9. People talk about how beautiful the mountains are. Let them say it after they'd climbed and dislodged boulders, and repaired wagon wheels for five days...

    10. If anyone had told NAME that she'd witness one of the world's greatest magical sights, she wouldn't have believed them. That is, not until she entered the crystal cavern and saw...

    11. If he could have slept all ninety days of his sentence, he would have. As it happened, he only slept two.

    12. ...and that wasn't the end of NAME causing trouble for everyone else. The next day he (something), and the day after that, he did the worst possible thing. Just as the light was fading, he...

    13. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, Nan used to say. NAME had a better one that he'd tell to Nan if he ever saw her again. Out of the carnivores plant forest and into the fire swamp...

    14. When they first spied the city lights, it seemed salvation was in sight, but when they reached the iron gates, it was clear there would be no rest for the weary...

    15. If ever there was a time NAME wished for his father to be there, it was when they...


    There are probably thousands to pick from, and these aren't strong examples, but I hope they give an idea. Transitional sentences change things and pass time. It can be a setting change, or a character attitude change, or a worsening of a condition that already exists. There's just so many ways and possibilities. I love transitions because they allow me to cut the fat that I can't help but write. I'm naturally very guilty of writing characters waking up, getting dressed, having breakfast, talking about their plans for the day, having a bath, brushing their hair/ teeth, saddling up, OMG, I can just go on and on. I have a lot of cutting to do when i edit, for sure!

    Hope some of this helps give you ideas!
     
  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Caged Maiden, those are great. They give a sense of continuity, which is something that was missing in the book I previously mentioned. Perhaps the book in question suffered even more because those short scenes occurred at the very beginning, so just as I was getting into the story and the main character, I was knocked back out, skipping a few hours ahead into a whole different situation. Very strobe-like. With those connective transitions, I could have remained with the character, got a feel for how his life/living happened.
     
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