Scene Transitions: The Literary Bridge over Troubled Waters

I took a break yesterday from the blog to work on Lights and Shadows (I’m ALWAYS working on Lights and Shadows so it’s a crappy excuse…hehe), but I’m back with a new topic today and it should be an interesting one.

Today’s topic is about Scene Transitions or those wonderful little thingies that we employ to take us from the end of one scene to the beginning of another. First off, let me state that there are NO set in stone rules for writing a scene transition. Whatever gets you from Point A to Point B will work and there are too many examples to list here though here is a common one that I have run across.

The Chorus line of Pound Signs: Some of us are old enough to remember before Twitter when this (#) meant a pound sign. Or a tic-tac-toe board…whatever. Using a trio of pound signs goes back to an old newspaper trick used to separate paragraphs or to end a page. Many Old School writers started off working for newspapers and adopted that little thing to separate scenes. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing to use, and I used them WAY back in the day, but they can be jarring to the reader because they simply break one scene and start another. I don’t recommend using this because I believe that it screws up the story’s flow and when the reader has to go back and figure out what the hell happened when Character A vanishes and is replaced by Character Z doing something totally different in a totally different location.

What I do is to end the scene at an appropriate note is to add a little exposition to describe how events are changing and then move into the next scene. The Story will always dictate what it needs and we should be empathic to those needs. Or you can blow something up, kill off a character, etc, to accomplish the desired effect you’re going for. Here is an example of a scene transition that I am using in Lights and Shadows:

“Get on that while I’ll check the rest of this place out.” He pulled out the Colt and popped the cylinder. His supply of smart bullets were seriously depleted after the last run in with that hologram and he dreaded the prospect of using his backup laser. I knew I should have packed more speed loaders, he thought as he snapped the cylinder back into position. Damn you and your ‘promotions’, Arnax. He reached into a belt pouch and removed a small laser sight, which he attached over his weapon’s iron sights. After checking the calibration, he held the pistol at the ready and continued on.

Okay, that’s a little light on exposition, but it works as a scene transition. At least to me.

Comments and suggestions are always welcome, so feel free to share your thoughts. Thanks for your time. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Scene Transitions: The Literary Bridge over Troubled Waters

  1. A lot of people like scene breaks. I’m not a huge personal fan, but I’ve been trying to incorporate them into my short stories, which is always where I try out new things.

    The biggest downside I see is that they aren’t going to work well with audio books unless you put in something like that little chime that meant to turn the page in a child’s audio book.

    So, I’m ambivalent. I prefer to link scenes personally, and audio seems to be an important market. But scene breaks are undeniably popular. *shrugs*

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    • I suppose that scene breaks would be most effective if you were stringing together several smaller vignettes. I haven’t tried making an audiobook yet so I can’t speak to that, but it does seem interesting. 🙂

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  2. I’m a scene break girl. I write cinematically, so it just comes out that way. I don’t think it’s confusing at all, so long as you end your scene with a feeling of resonance/momentum and begin the next scene with a clear establishment of setting and POV. There are a few scenes in Paradisa that I’ve had to continually tweak because it wasn’t clear until three paragraphs down who’s shoulder we were looking over, or where exactly we were. Because I have two POV characters in my book, it’s pretty much a necessity as well unless I want to make every chapter a different scene.

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    • You make some very valid points. I’m a firm believer that scene transitions should be seamless and contribute to the story flow. I don’t write cinematically because, with Literature, you have a broader canvas to work from. Because of the gaps, movies rarely are better than the books they are based upon. 😉

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      • Funny, I actually feel the opposite – I feel incredibly strained by literature because I don’t have a visual canvas. I can’t build tension via editing, I can’t establish character via physical camera distance, I can’t establish the mood with music. Not to say that all these things can’t be done with words alone, as many great authors do, but I find it much easier to slip into storytelling when I have all the possibilities of a visual medium at my disposal. Honestly, I ought to be a screenwriter, but Paradisa is too expensive to film! (For now, anyway. I’ve been uh…working on that ;D)

        I also rarely find movies worse than the books they’re based on, unless it was an obvious cash grab by the studio and the film crew clearly phoned it in (which is, unfortunately, the majority of the time, but I don’t see that as an insult to the medium of cinema itself as much as it’s a reflection of how careless Hollywood execs are at encouraging quality. If they just gave 2/5ths of a damn, they could make every adaptation excellent) . Usually I just find the well-done ones different, and I don’t mourn lost details or content because of the visual tradeoff.

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      • The thing is that the “Visual Canvas” is your mind itself. Literature is merely the medium that we operate in. You don’t build tension with editing. You build it with carefully selected and placed scene structure. One of the things that annoy me is an over-reliance on special effects over plot substance. I started to notice it when The Matrix films first came out and I find it annoying that this sort of film making has become the norm. I came up with books and love them because they go into details that movies are unable to provide and I can use my imagination to fill in any missing pieces as necessary.

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