How to Write Great Transition Scenes

writing great transitional scenes

Every book has a beginning and end. Between that beginning and end, there are many highs and lows, chapters, scenes and paragraphs. Each connect with the next, and each should have a transitional flow for a smooth, enjoyable read.

In movies, transitions between scenes are easy. The screen fades to black at just the right moment, and when it lights up again, you’re watching a new scene.

But how do you write transitions in a creative writing RPG? How does your character get from Point A to Point B without boring readers and writers alike with banalities and routines? Can you fade to black? How do you write that transition well?

In a creative writing RPG (or a novel), transitions take more finesse. You need to know what to leave out, what to leave in and how far to jump to get to the next scene. You also need to make sure that the hook you leave at the end of your scene makes people want to know what comes next.

Using Transitions As Punctuation

Transitional scenes are like punctuation. They act as periods, ending the action, or as dashes, giving readers pause. They can leave a question in the reader’s mind, or they can end on an exclamation point so that readers hang onto the edge of their seat, anticipating hungrily for the next scene.

Transitions definitely shouldn’t put readers to sleep, boring them out of their interest in what comes next. Also, transition to a new scene too soon and you leave the reader feeling cheated or even confused.

Your transition needs some structure, and it requires thinking ahead. You have to think about where your character has just been to wrap up your scene, and you have to know where your character needs to be next, so you can make the transition between both scenes a smooth one.

Let’s say two characters are hanging out watching TV on a Friday night. Character A decides they should go out to a bar and Character B agrees.

Think about how much of the upcoming transition you want to show to readers. How much would you enjoy reading scene after scene on the little details, like getting dressed, getting in the car, driving to the local bar, finding a parking space…

You probably wouldn’t enjoy reading that at all, and you probably wouldn’t enjoy writing it either. That’s pretty boring stuff. Unless you have a reason to show any or all of those details to readers, skip the mundane.

However, if some details are integral to the story, show it to the readers. Character B might suddenly wonder whether Character A considers this a date and becomes flustered and nervous, or Character A might be rehearsing the Serious Talk he wants to have on the drive over.

But if the two people just want to go to a bar and have no other thoughts in mind, skip ahead and bring them to the point of opening the bar door or sipping their first drink.

Enter Stage Left, Exit Stage Right

Transitions are much like the turn of a page at the end of a scene in a paperback novel. They should wrap the scene up nicely and give the reader a place to sigh happily and set down the book for the night to come back to it tomorrow, or they should leave the reader with a real cliffhanger so they can’t resist turning that page.

Always leave them wanting more.

So if something exciting is going to happen next, give readers a teaser or a taste. Make them say, “Ooh!” and get them excited to read the next scene. Think about how your favorite TV show wraps up for the night with a real hook and a “Tune in tomorrow…”

You’re screaming, aren’t you. And you’re back tomorrow, eyes glued to the screen.

If you’re aiming for warm fuzzies or a somber wrap up, give readers that too. Write in a way that leaves them with a sigh, or with some emotional response that lingers. “Aw, how sad! I wonder what he’ll do!” Or, “Aw, that’s so sweet…”

When you pick up again, you can get right to the next scene and not worry about the hours that fell in between.

Even individual posts have transitions at the end, right at the point you finish your post and hand the baton to the next player for his or her reply. You need to give them something they can pick up on to continue the flow, an action they can react to.

One of the most common mistakes in transitions is when a player writes, “…and he waited for her reply.” Boooring. Readers know that the character is waiting for a reply – duh.

Find a better way to wrap your scene and pass the baton. Ask a question. “Do you really think we’ll make it?” and leave it there for a cliffhanger that begs for an answer. Or, end with a statement sentence. “He turned his back to her, and put his face in his hands.” Try an action. “The glass flew from his fingers, and smashed against the wall.”

And the reader goes, “Ooh!” and turns the page to see what happens next.

You Are Here

When transitioning between scenes and setting up a new one, choose an interesting point of entry. Someone once said (George Lucas, perhaps?) that it’s sometimes better to start in the middle.

You’re probably thinking, “Huh? Start in the middle? Isn’t that confusing?” Not if you do it right. Go ahead and skip right to the good part. Start just before the point you know something good is going to happen.

If you need to add details, a quick paragraph or two suffices – don’t recount the minutes of the past three hours to set your scene up. Give a few highlights so the reader has a sense of where and when they are, and then dig in.

Writing perfect transitions are a tool in your writing toolbox. They’re just as important as any element of the story and not one to be taken for granted. Good transitions contribute to the anticipation and excitement, and they keep readers turning those pages.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again – without getting caught.

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  1. Wow, great post Harry! I love this, it’s so useful and relevant. And yeah, you know I’m learning all this kind of writing. Thanks! 🙂
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..Defining Your Target Market =-.

  2. Really this was great!… I am working on my own novel and often this thing gets me trapped in terms of the flow. If you have read twilight, you would probably know that most of the times the scenes are a draw when the eriter could have just used transition
    .-= write a writing´s last blog ..Elements of a Good Thesis Statement =-.

  3. Mark W. says:

    This post is another great rockin’ post … so I have to comment. 🙂

    “Think about how your favorite TV show wraps up for the night with a real hook and a “Tune in tomorrow…” You’re screaming, aren’t you. And you’re back tomorrow, eyes glued to the screen.”

    And this is why I can’t get into TV series and instead read books, blogs, and Internet content in general. When the TV tells me to tune in tomorrow or wait until sometime in the next upcoming segment (5 minutes, 20 minutes, ?) they have control so I’m either tuning to the another channel or hitting the power button. Thanks for reading my rant. 🙂

  4. Great post to get me in the right frame of mind first thing on this very important writing morning! 🙂

    Some of my favorite scene transitions are the ones that jump right into the thick of an exciting scene, but give you just enough information about how the character(s) ended up there to stop me from saying, “Hey! What about…?” Those always have me hooked.
    .-= Nicole Brunet´s last blog ..A Place in My Mind =-.

  5. @Melinda: You’re welcome! Hopefully you’ll be able to put it into practice and try it out 😉

    @Write: I haven’t read the Twilight series (If I do, I hope it’s better than the movie – don’t even get me started on that one!). Could you give us an example of what you mean by a draw?

    @Mark W: And that is why I wait until a season is over before getting the series on DVD. Half the time I forget when the shows are on – except for Lost and Heroes, those two are burned into my brain. Even with books there’s no control. What happens when you get to the end of the first book in a series where the rest of the series isn’t written or published yet?

    @Nichole: Those are the most fun for me too. Why deal with all the fluff? No reason to in some cases.

  6. Mark W. says:

    Harry, you bring up a good point.

    I would be SOL. 🙂

  7. Awesome post. I am always impressed by great transition, when it comes to TV shows I think 24 is one of the best when it comes to transitions.

    When it comes to books, I think Jeffery Deaver is great with transitions.

    I’ve never thought of using transitions when it comes to blog posts, but you are absolutely right. I guess my next blog post will be a lot different and not so boring 🙂
    .-= Jens P. Berget´s last blog ..Just Launched Traffic Roots =-.

  8. Geat advise, it’s just what I needed when I needed it. Thanks 😉
    .-= J.Morgan´s last blog ..Transformers (The fallen) =-.

  9. That’s exactly what I do Harry! Wait for the season to end and buy the dvd. Like Jens said “24” is one of the best in transitions and hangers. I just can’t wait for the next 24 hours to start.

  10. Perect day for this post 🙂

    This is something I always try to be aware of, but also always feel I need more work on.

    I rewrite and rewrite the end of my posts at least three or four times every time and still wonder if it could have been better.

    And in books, if the transistions are bad, I put the book down and never pick it up again.
    .-= Wendi Kelly-Life’s Little Inspirations´s last blog ..Beware the Drift =-.

  11. @Jens: I’ve never watched 24, but everyone seems to have good things to say about it. Maybe I’ll add that series to my Amazon wish list.

    One show I have trouble with (even though I love it to death) is Heroes. There’s so much skipping back and forth through time I get worn out trying to keep up with it.

    @JMorgan: That’s what we do best!

    @JamesF: Now I’m definitely going to have to get that series.

    @Wendi: Don’t rewrite too much, you may end up writing yourself out of something good! Like over-working a painting, you know?

  12. Good stuff. I like to think of transitional scenes as “connective tissue.” Just because they don’t pack the punch of impact scenes, they are still crucial elements of your story, just as Harry writes.

    One of the best tips I’ve ever heard was to write every scene as if it has a mission to accomplish. And biding time isn’t a mission. So even transitional scenes have a job to do, something to contribute to the story, even if it is primarily characterization. But even then these connective/transitional scenes should create foreshadowing or context for the forthcoming impact scene. And the worst mistake a scene can make is to stop the pacing and tension cold.

    Scene writing is a critical skill in getting published. You can have the best concept, great characters, killer themes and a writing voice from God himself, and if your scenes suck the manuscript won’t sell.

    So thanks, Harry, for opening this very necessary and too-often ignored can of literary worms.
    .-= Larry´s last blog ..Why You Need to Break the Writing Process Down =-.

  13. @Larry: Thanks for stopping by! Your points are exactly what prompted me to write this post. So many people take the transition for granted and it really is an important element that contributes to the overall story, whether it’s a play by post, full blown novel or script. Like you said, you could have the writing voice from God Himself, but if your scenes fall flat time after time, all your hard work is for nothing.

  14. Harry,

    How did you know I do that with my paintings too? Does it show? 🙂

    It’s a good point. I did have to learn that in watercolor. Work it too much and you have nothing but dull mud.

    Hmm, yes…don’t overthink it.

    Thanks.
    .-= Wendi Kelly-Life’s Little Inspirations´s last blog ..Beware the Drift =-.

  15. Your photo with this post of excellent points, cracked me up. Lovely subversive little hint.

  16. Agree with Elly, great photo!

    Accompanies a great post. Writing transitions in an RPG is still something I struggle with. It doesn’t flow without considerable mental effort. I like the tip about starting in the middle, going to give that one a try.
    .-= Marc – WelshScribe´s last blog ..SEO 101.4 | Competition Analysis =-.

  17. @Elly: I was wondering when someone was going to pick up on that. 100 Internet Points to you!

    @Marc: What about it do you think makes it a struggle for you? Is it not knowing where to end or begin?

  18. Harry. It’s more the ending than the beginning. More so with individual posts, not so much between scenes. I’m always asking myself, have I done enough? Is there scope for another player to naturally come in? Or are they forced to do extra work they didn’t really need to?

    I usually feel my endings are underwhelming rather than overwhelming (which is equally bad yes).
    .-= Marc – WelshScribe´s last blog ..SEO 101.4 | Competition Analysis =-.

  19. John Hager says:

    Think of transitions as the stitches that hold the work together as a whole. At every break in the flow of your work, you provide the opportunity for readers to leave it. They’re less likely to do that if you “stitch” the transition across the break by making the end of the previous chapter relevant to the beginning of the following chapter.

    For example, let’s say this sentence ends chapter four: “The glass flew from his fingers, and smashed against the wall.” Chapter five begins with something like, “In the foyer, Bayless whispered, ‘Did you hear that?'” The sound of the smashing glass becomes the stitch between the chapters.

    Stitching across chapters is what makes your readers say “I’ll just read a little more” instead of “I think I’ll stop here”.

    Love starting in the middle. Great revision tool to focus on the essential elements of your story.

  20. @John That’s a great way of describing it. Thanks for sharing that tip.

  21. Another excellent post, always informative and interesting stuff from you.
    Transition scenes are really vital to the success of a novel, a movie, a show, etc. Without smooth transition scenes, there’s no looking forward to what will happen next, no build-up, no anticipation at all. No matter how good or exciting your plot is, without good transition you lose the audience somewhere in the middle, without them ever knowing or being interested in what actually happened.
    .-= UPrinting´s last blog ..Medical and Dental Practice Postcard Design Ideas =-.

  22. Susan H says:

    Thank you. That was simple and clear. Your article pointed out a lot of transitions in my writing that had been over looked.

  23. Great post,
    I found it a good shot in the arm. Working on flashbacks and helped substantially.

    Mahalo,
    Roach

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