Lost in Transition

Many of us have already been told it’s better to keep our prose as simple as possible: clear is better than clever, as they say. For the most part, I agree. And I’ve enjoyed my share of flowery prose! One part of a story that’s created something of a dividing line between me and other authors, though, is just that: the dividing line. To put it more broadly, the use of transitions.

Keeping in mind that adage of clearer being better than clever, I don’t see much point in dwelling on long, rambling transition sequences. But, I also think the dividing line is a bit of a cheat. Not only does that divider line (or space block, or asterisks, or whatever) take the reader out of the moment, it breaks the flow of the narrative. Sometimes, this doesn’t matter so much; if you’re changing perspective, for example, you want to separate the narrative flow somehow. But for a subtle scene or time change, I prefer to keep reading, rather than having my eye stutter over a visual division.

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly: the relatively uneventful walk back to the city centre, with St. Stephens and the train station, and a bit of aimless traipsing around the shops while the hotel prepared their late check-in room. Sally led them into a book shop where they stopped to listen to a charming children’s reading circle; Larry dallied in a retro art store with a selection of colorful and odd-looking international movie posters.

The quaintness was charming, of course, and they chatted along the way about both realistic potentialities and dreamy might-bes. But, through it all, there was still something missing, something hovering almost expectantly in the air between them: when they’d stop at a corner, or pause in conversation, or share a quiet look over tea and biscuits in a coffee shop.

Now, the above doesn’t really move the plot along any; all it does is take the reader from one scene to another. An editor might tell me to cut it. Simply removing these paragraphs between the two scenes makes my brain stutter, though, the same as putting in one of those divider lines would do. So, I’ve indulged myself with this transition.

What are your feelings on transitions in prose?

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4 thoughts on “Lost in Transition

  1. Mayumi, I do the exact same thing! I feel as you do, that a transition is awkward and stilted enough without having to put a little swirly line to indicate a scene change. I really don’t like reading books with abrupt time or location changes. I like to be eased into the new place or new time.

    I also tend to do this as an opening to a chapter. I have learned that’s not the most effective way to draw a reader into the story nor to keep the reader engaged. I have been working hard at being less “flowery” and more direct especially with chapter openings.

    This, though, is because I am intent on publishing traditionally and I know an editor would tell me to strike it. I think if I was aiming for self-pubbing, I might not worry so much about it.

    Obviously, this all boils down to how much control we want to have in our books. The transitions in prose isn’t wrong, and it’s not bad–especially the way you do it because you’re an artistic writer–but if we want to sell, we have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice.

    I personally like your excerpt. Even though it might not move the plot forward, you are showing what’s transpiring within and between the characters. Sure, you could compile those two graphs into “something vital was missing between Sally and Larry, despite the ease and fun they had that afternoon…” or something to that effect. But it’s not nearly as interesting to read. :)

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    • Thanks, Kate.

      I do like your short-and-sweet edit version, too, though. I suppose I’ll have to try harder to get my thoughts into more succinct order, such as you do. :)

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  2. Personally, I try to keep any huge transitions to the beginnings of chapters, unless I am pulling two + scenes together and need to show how they virew each other.

    But even if I do big leaps in time or place, I will at least clarify and quantify what was passed over in some shred of detail.
    If I were your editor, I would tell you to keep these as they are, if for now other reason than to keep the flow intact. Applying some of these rough cuts to Fearless makes it as choppy as Ross’ surf.

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    • Thanks, Shade. This kind of thought process is really valuable to me. I know how I like to read (and that influences a lot how I write), but it’s always good to get another, fresher perspective. (And, if you do notice choppiness in my storytelling, in Fearless or other stories, please do let me know! Your comment about that one earlier transition did make me go back and rewrite that section.)

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