How to Write Transitions

Photo credit: Geraint Rowland Photography on Flickr
So a few days ago a funny thing happened where two people suggested basically the same post, on two different social media channels. One requested a post, one requested a vlog, and I ultimately decided a post would be more suited for this question, so. Here we go. 


Once upon a time in your writing class, or on Twitter, or in a writing book—whatever—you read and heard over and over about the importance of showing rather than telling. “Remember, show don’t tell!” you heard over and over and over, until you pretty much had the words branded to your brain. 

You may remember, if you’ve been around Writability for two years, that I once wrote a post about when is a good time to tell (rather than show). And this right here—the passage of time—is one of those times when telling is key. 

So PSA: readers do not need to know what your characters have experienced every single moment of every single day until the story has ended. The lulls in the day, the passages of uneventful weeks (or months!) is something that as writers we need to learn to navigate without putting our readers to sleep. 

The key, honestly, is the easiest transition in the history of transitions: you skip the whole thing and sum it up with a phrase or sentence. 

Some phrases that are useful with this kind of transition include:

  • [Passage of time] later… —A month later…
  • After [passage of time] of [what’s been going on]… —After three weeks of falling asleep in the back of class…
  • The next [passage of time]… —The next day… 
  • [Protagonist] has been [doing whatever] for [passage of time]. —I’ve been passing out in math class for three weeks.

So on and so forth. 

The key to think about when writing these transitions is to answer two questions: 
  1. How much time has passed? 
  2. What do my readers need to know about what happened during that time? 

Sometimes, as is often the case with shorter passages of time (an hour, a day, etc.), the answer to the second question is nothing. That’s when “The next day” or “Three hours later” work perfectly without any further explanation. 

Oftentimes with longer passages of time, however, readers need just a little information to fill in that gap. Usually you can fill this in in under a sentence (as per the example of “After three weeks of falling asleep in the back of class”) and then move on to whatever is happening in the present. Sometimes, when a little more has happened during that time, but not enough to merit writing it out scene by scene, a few sentences of summarization can fill in the pertinent information before you move on to the important now stuff. 

Last thing you’ll want to think about is whether you make the transition in mid-chapter (usually after a scene break, but sometimes without even that) or at the start of a new chapter. Both can work, and honestly I think it just depends on how you structure your chapters and where the transition fits in naturally. CPs can help you figure out whether you’ve structured your transitions in a way that flows or not. 

Once you’ve done all that, voila! You’ve now skipped over the boring part of your protagonist’s story. A+.

Do you struggle with transitions? What tips do you have? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Not sure how to handle passages of time in your WIP? @Ava_Jae breaks down how use transitions. (Click to tweet
Not sure how to skip a day/week/month, etc. in your WIP? @Ava_Jae explains how to use transitions. #writetip (Click to tweet)

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