Moving Through Time and Space in Your Novel



me_on_the_laptop
Time to Edit Your First Draft

What is a Transition?

Not every scene is like a basic scene or like a main scene some scenes are all introspection, some are all action without introspection. Some scenes are scenes that are specifically used to relocate a character in time or space. These are called transition scenes.

However, not all transitions are full scenes. A scene transition is usually not a scene in itself. It’s the narration between scenes. Too much narration turns a novel into a report. Transitions can be short like “The next morning”. They can be a couple of paragraphs. They could be entire scenes. (Like a train ride).

Scene transitions can be pure narrative, a recitation of who did what and when. Narration is often discouraged since it’s telling rather than showing, but narration is quite useful for transitions. It’s an efficient way to indicate a change in place or time and provide details without drawing out the information into a scene of its own.

Why Use Scene Transitions

To provide description

To break tension

To slow the pace

To skip unimportant events or time periods

To create or switch mood or tone

To advance the time

To change location

To change viewpoint character

While scene transitions can be used to change the tone, they could be used just as easily to maintain tone. That is, if your story is humorous, keep your transitions humorous too.

Scene to Scene

In fiction, a scene is a unit of drama. A sequel is what follows; an aftermath. Together, scene and sequel provide the building blocks of plot for short stories, novels, and other forms of fiction.

Scenes are indispensable when writing a novel. A novel is lengthy, about 80,000-130,000 words. Scenes are usually only 400-500 words long. You can easily edit a scene rather than editing the whole manuscript, which makes editing more manageable. During the editing process, you can check for structure, flow, characters, and plot holes. You can also break up one scene into two or more scenes if you want the editing process simplified.

A scene transition takes characters and readers to a new location, a new time, or a new point of view. Transitions can also be used to show a character’s change in heart or frame of mind.

So, we use scene transitions to skip periods of time or to change to a new location in the story, glossing over events that happen between the new and old times or locations.

Scene transitions need to identify place, time, and viewpoint character, especially if there’s been a change in any of the three. If the new scene has a change in mood or tone, that should also be established right away.

If the viewpoint character has changed, identify the new viewpoint character right off by naming him.

Time and place can be established in any number of ways. They can:

  • Name the new place
  • Describe the new place
  • Describe the event
  • Mention the time or day or date
  • Show a character doing something we already knew he’d be doing at a set time or in a particular place

Chapter Transitions

Scene transitions can be seamlessly inserted at the beginnings of chapters since readers expect a transition between chapters. In fact, you don’t need to write a detailed transition if you ended the previous chapter with a teaser of what’s to come.

What are Chapters?

A chapter is a main division in a novel. Each chapter can be either numbered or titled or both Each chapter is made up of two or more scene. However, some chapters may encompass only one scene. Chapters can be long or short. However, you don’t want them too short in that you end up with too many of them or too long that it becomes cumbersome to the reader. Chapter length may depend on the novel’s audience. For instance, chapters of children’s books will be a lot shorter than novels written for adults.

How do you effectively create chapters in a novel? It depends. In adventure and mystery novels, some people like to end chapters on cliffhangers. However, the bottom line is that you should end chapters whenever you feel a major shift in the story, whether it be a change in point of view or a new scene.

Chapter Breaks

Thoughtful chaptering is more important than ever. By starting and ending in the right places, your chapter breaks alone can serve the powerful function of building suspense and keeping your readers reading. Unlike sentences or paragraphs, which have rules, chapters are artistic decisions; there are no rules. Here are three simple, essential techniques that can help you make effective chapter pauses.

1. First Focus on Writing

To decide where to insert breaks, some writers make chapters part of their initial outline. However, others see this method as too restrictive and feel that the most effective chapter breaks come from writing first and then evaluating the structure. Instead they structure their outline by episodes and events, not chapters. When the draft is finished, they go back and look over the manuscript and decide where to make the best chapter breaks.

2. When your story needs a change

Changes of place, changes of time and changes of point of view (POV) are all excellent places for chapter breaks. Sometimes, our stories make them necessary like in changes of place, perspective, point of view, and plot direction. This transition tells the reader that its time for reorientation. Chapter breaks of this type lead to continuity and pacing which are necessary to increase suspense.

3. During an action scene

How can I end this part so that the sleepy reader is compelled to keep the light on, if only to see how some crisis turns out or how some crucial question is answered? For even more suspense, break the chapter in the heart of action.

Effective as it is, there are a couple of problems: First, you don’t want to end every chapter this way, or even most of them. It becomes predictable, which is something you never want anybody to say about your novel. After a while, this tactic loses its effectiveness. Suspension of disbelief can go just so far. For the technique to be most effective, it needs to be an integral part of the overall story, not a gratuitous invention inserted just to try to keep the reader turning pages.

Changing Scenes within Chapters

Not all scene changes occur between chapters. Sometimes you need a scene change within a chapter.

If point of view that’s changing, be sure to identify the new viewpoint character (POV) immediately. A change in point of view qualifies as a change in scene because the reader is in the head of a different character—different thoughts and emotions. There’s probably a different tone to this section as well, as you’d expect with a different character’s personality both coloring and filtering the reader’s perceptions. Never change POV within a paragraph.

POV changes without notice and within scenes cause two major problems. First, they confuses the reader. You never want your readers getting lost in your novel. You certainly don’t want any of them to have to reread because you failed to provide enough scene markers. Each time a reader stops reading because she must reread a passage, she is pulled out of the fiction you’ve crafted. You lose the reader’s trust when he is repeatedly yanked from the novel’s world.

And second, the reader loses the connection he had with the viewpoint character. You work to create connections for your reader, so he can step into the mind and heart and life of a character. If you’ve done it well, the reader will read as if he’s experiencing the events.

Chapter Endings

Chapter endings in fiction look both backward and forward. They are transitions between what has already happened and what is about to break loose. They are links and doorways and connection points.

The end of a chapter—the last scene, the last paragraph, the last sentence—brings closure to one chapter but at the same time needs to lead readers and characters to the next scene and chapter and story event.

A chapter ending that doesn’t satisfy the events of the chapter, at least some of them, hasn’t done its work. And the chapter ending that doesn’t pull readers deeper into the story, fill them with anticipation for what comes next, also hasn’t accomplished all that it should.

Except for the first and last chapters, most chapter endings have similar purposes.

Endings will address and resolve or address and deepen story problems introduced in that chapter or earlier chapters. Of course, not every problem is resolved, but there will be some closure. At the same time, some new event or twist will raise the tension level. Some answers will be provided, but those answers might be what drives character and reader into the next story event. And into the next chapter.

Successful endings will raise tension for readers and keep them involved in the story.

Not every chapter will have the same degree of closure as other chapters. Vary your chapter endings, but the endings should reflect what came before if only to mention an event or character or repeat a word or phrasing that tie story elements together.

  • Chapter endings will not put readers to sleep.
  • Chapter endings should introduce or raise tension and/or conflict
  • Chapter endings can introduce new problems.
  • Chapter endings can reveal something new about a character’s personality or his reasons for being involved in whatever story issue has a hold on him.
  • Chapter endings can introduce new characters, new aspects of old characters, new events, and secrets.
  • Chapters can end with dialogue or with action. They should contain something new or surprising.
  • Chapters should never end with a character yawning and going to bed. The reader will do the same and may never return.
  • Chapter endings (other than the one for the final chapter) will not resolve all story issues revealed up to that point. If they did, readers would have no reason to keep reading.
  • Use cliffhanger endings if that works for the genre and the style of story you want to tell.
  • Use anticipation and fear and any emotion that will keep readers turning pages.
  • Shake up your story and characters with the unexpected at a chapter’s end. Satisfy and tease at the same time.
  • Write captivating chapter endings and never allow your readers to become bored.

Get Your FREE Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

This is the first post in a series of blog posts about how to edit your novel. If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.

FREE COMPREHENSIVE NOVEL EDITING CHECKLIST

2 comments
  1. Great advice, Donna! I would highly recommend your tutorials on writing a novel.

  2. 1authorcygnetbrown said:

    Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: