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How to Handle Scene Transitions with Kate Walker

We have author Kate Walker visiting with this awesome post on Scene Transitions.

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Over to Kate now...

Transitions between Scenes
 
 There is a great quote by Alfred Hitchcock
 Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.
 
He’s talking about film drama of course, but the same can be said for writing fiction of any sort.  The story you tell in romantic fiction is the story of the emotional journey you hero and heroine take from their first meeting, from  dislike, even hatred, or distrust, or  just plain attraction, through to their happy ever after ending  where they discover that what they feel for each other is a very special once in a lifetime love that will sustain them for the rest of their lives.
 
There is a lot to get into your story, particularly if you are writing a short, concentrated category romance where you don’t have words to spare. You don’t want to waste any of those precious words on things that don’t matter  or those ‘boring bits.’  Nowhere is this more important  at the  beginnings or ending s of scenes or chapters.
 
Now here some people have a problem. As with so many things about writing, they think that  there are ‘rules’ about things like chapters – or even scenes. On my writing courses I’m so often asked ‘How many chapters do I need to have?’  or ‘How long is a chapter/scene’? The answer is that there aren’t any rules  - and that a chapter and/or a scene is as look as it needs to be. Many people don’t realise that every chapter/scene needs to  make sure it says something important about the relationship between your hero and heroine. It must move the relationship along, develop the  conflict. and reveal more about your characters and their  situation. So a chapter/scene needs to have the same sort of character development  arc as the  whole of the book. Your hero and heroine start at one point in their relationship, and what happens in the scene –changes or develops that so that by the end they are in a subtly different place from where they began.
So scenes, and chapters, need to have beginnings and endings in the same way as the whole book does.  You need to write  each one so that there is a ‘hook’ at the beginning – something that leads the reader into continuing with the story and wanting to go on.  A piece of dialogue, or a way of picking up what happened at the end of the previous scene/chapter will do this.   In the same way, you need to make sure that the end of the previous chapter  finishes on something that  makes the reader want to read on. If it comes to too obvious a  halt, this might mean that the pace slows to a place where the reader isn’t intrigued and wanting to read any more.
The classic example of this, is when a chapter  ends with the heroine, say, reflecting on all that has happened.  If she is thinking about everything and then ‘she turned out the light and went to sleep’, this usually means that your reader will do exactly that – put down the book and not go any further.  But if your chapter ends on a line something like ; ‘She  could see only one way forward. It was that or nothing.  Tomorrow she was going to tell Mario just how she felt’ then this wil make the reader want to continue and find out what happened when she confronted the hero or whatever else happens.
 
A  change from one scene to another where there is a gap in time can also cause problems. You need to let your reader know that a stretch of time has passed and so that things are different from the way they were when the previous scene/chapter ended. But you don’t want to state it in ‘Three weeks later’ terms.  That takes the reader out of the story and makes her  aware that she is reading a book, rather than being absorbed in what is happening. But if you have your heroine thinking ‘this time last week , she had been in Mario’s villa. . .’ or  have a character say. ‘But it’s three weeks since you got back – surely Mario has contacted   you by now’ – then you give the same information  by showing not telling it.
Here’s an example of how I showed the time that has passed in A Question of Honor:
 
ENGLAND was a lifetime away.
                Three days. Thousands of miles. Another side of the world. And  she felt like she’d lived a whole lifetime  since then.
 
A technique that I often use to link one scene/chapter to another is one that can be very effective as long as it’s not used too often. This is when  your heroine, say, says something as the last sentence of the previous chapter.  And then the other person/hero  takes this up or echoes it in their thoughts at the beginning of the next chapter.
                ‘I never got that letter,’ she cried. ‘Nothing from you in three years.’
 
                Nothing from you in three years.  Mario couldn’t believe that he had heard right. She couldn’t have said that . . .
This is also a good way of showing that the point of view you’re writing in has moved from one character to another.  But as I said, this technique is effective aso long as you don’t use it too often. If you use it  several time in a book then it starts to sound repetitive and   loses the impact you’re looking for.
A good way of creating tension and ‘hooking’ the reader at the end of a scene/chapter is to leave things on a question  that need to be answered. This way you create a cliff-hanger that is  sure to intrigue the reader and make her want to find out what the response will be.  So you can end  one section on that question and have the other character answering it at the start of the next.  Or if you find it will make a better story, you can have the second person  thinking  some time later about how the question had been asked  but then never answered because . . .
This is where that Hitchcock quote comes in again.  One of the important things to remember when writing popular fiction of any sort is that you only need to put in the important  parts, the things that make for ‘drama’ rather than  real life.  If time, whether days, hours, or even just minutes passes between the end of one c scene and the beginning of another then you don’t need to tell the reader just what had happened in that time. You want to move on to what is important, what changes things, what makes the emotional journey progress, the conflict develop. So it doesn’t matter how many meals  they had, or cups of coffee they made!  It doesn’t even need to be shown if your hero went off  on a business trip.  What matters is when he returns, and things start  up between them again, whether it’s just minutes, or even years since they last met.  Then you can sketch in a little bit about what happened while they were apart, if it’s really needed. The important thing is to keep the story moving, the emotional relationship changing, the emotional journey progressing. 
In a way moving from one scene or  chapters  to another is rather like changing the point of view you’re writing. You start in  one place, one event, one development, and then move to the next scene, and you need to connect the scene you’ve just left with the one you  are moving into. So you want to make sure that your reader  sees the connection  between where you are now and where you had been before – too much of a jump can leave your reader floundering and wondering just what is going on.   Even if a lot of time and distance has passed since the previous one, it only takes moments to sketch that in lightly, and connect the reader up again. Also, you want to make it clear why this scene comes next rather than something else.
When I’m teaching I always emphasise how important it Is to make sure that you know and understand your characters well and make them come alive and seem real in  your reader’s mind.   This is important in making smooth and connected transitions from one scene to another too. Keep your characters at the forefront of everything you’re writing so the reader will feel connected to them and will follow them through their story easily and smoothly, whatever changes of scene of place or time you might need to put in.  Just the smallest of links will make this transition easier and make everything run much more smoothly each time you  need to put in a transition from one scene to another.

If you want to clarify any point, please ask in comments...
A runaway princess…

It should have been easy. Karim al Khalifa, crown prince of Mazarkhad, had one task—retrieve rebellious princess Clementina Saveneski from her hideout in England and return her home to be wed…to another man.
His to find, or his to keep?
It is not for Karim to notice her alluring scent, those seductive curves, the enticing glances she sends his way. No, his family's honor, and his own, require Clementina to be delivered—pure and untouched—to her unwanted bridegroom. And he must resist all temptation to keep her for himself!

Buy Link:Amazon

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 Mills & Boon
 

40 comments:

  1. Great tips. The repetition of dialogue to show POV change is a great idea.

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    1. Hi Kelly - I'm so glad you find these tips interesting and helpful. I'm always concerned to make sure that POV changes don't' turn into head-hopping where people don't know who's head they're in! I think the dialogue things helps with that.

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  2. Hey Kate! I needed this right now. Thanks for your wisdom on transitions. Your new book sounds great. Can't wait to read.

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    1. Hello Denise! Good to see you. So glad this was what you needed. And I do hope you enjoy A Question of Honor if you read it

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  3. Yeah. I struggle with smooth transitions sometimes too, as my editor is always telling me. Great post.

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    1. I sympathise, Donna. If we're not carefully, that transition can be such a jump. I think I spend more time wondering just where to start - a new book - a new scene - and new chapter . . . than most things

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  4. I always try to write my chapters as if they're mini books, but end at the climax as a cliffhanger, but this is the first time I read about someone else doing it. I sure love the Hitchcock quote. What a master of suspense!! Wishing you luck! :)

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    1. Isn't it a great quote, Lexa - just perfect for write good drama/suspense/ any fiction! And yes, I always try to end a chapter on a cliffhanger . .hook - it keeps the reader reading!

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  5. Great pointers! I really enjoyed the examples--so very helpful!

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    1. Hello Meradeth - so glad I could help. I try to use examples if I can in my teaching - they do help to get the point across to see it in a real piece of writing. Thanks for visiting

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  6. These are great tips! I found myself nodding to every sentence. :)

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Chrys - So glad that these tips helped you! I love the idea of you nodding along to them - that means that what I've said resonates with you., That's great.

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  7. I really like how Kate emphasizes the EMOTIONAL journey of the characters. Too often some writers get caught up in the plot and forget about what the characters are feeling during all the action.

    I'm looking forward to checking out her book.

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    1. Ah yes, Helena - in a romance it's all about the Emotional Journey of the characters so that's where I always put my focus. I think you're right and sometimes writers get caught up in the action/plot and forget that in a romance, readers are looking for that emotional story. - those feelings are so important.

      I hope you enjoy A Question of Honor if you pick it up.

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  8. I agree with Kate, Hitchcock's quote does apply to writing too. Wishing her all the best! :)

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    1. Hi Karen - thank you for responding. I do think that Hitchcock had it right for creating a faster paced story - the everyday details slow things down and take away the focus from the dramas - or, in the case of romance, the emotion that the reader wants to see. Thanks for your good wishes.

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  9. Good advice! It's important for the characters to have an emotional journey so readers can connect with them.

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    1. Hello Sherry - I agree - whatever type of fiction you're writing - whether it's a thriller, a crime novel, historical fiction - or romance - that emotional journey for your central characters will get the reader to identify with them. And if they identify with the characters then they'll enjoy their story more.

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  10. Great tips, Kate! I've read at least a couple of novels that made the mistake of spelling out everything: "I got out of the car and closed the door. I locked it, then went up the driveway. I headed up the steps and knocked on the door." Argh!!!!!

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    1. Thanks Deniz - I know the sort of books you mean - the ones that can't leave any details out and tell the reader exactly what happens all the time - I read one book where I lost count of the number of times the heroine made coffee - or where every last detail of each meal was listed. (As you said - Argh!!) I wanted to know what was happening between the hero and heroine - not what they were eating!

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  11. Great tips! And it's so true each chapter/scene needs a beginning and an end. It amazes me people think there has to be a certain length to things. They are what they are.

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  12. Thanks Cherie. It's true - people do seem to think that there are 'rules' for everything - and that a scene must be a certain length, or a chapter a set number of pages. Apart from that beginning, middle and end they are, as you said, what they are. Wouldn't it be boring if everything - every book had just the same set up of pages, chapters . .. ?

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  13. Love the transition ideas so much, I picked up the book. Now to find time to read it!

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    1. Hi Elizabeth -, and thank you for buying the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. I really hope that it helps you - after all, that's what I wrote it for! Good luck with your own writing.

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  14. Great tips! I think we start picking these things up from the time we read our first book but we don't know what they mean or why we do them a certain way. Tips like this make it all so much clearer.

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    1. Thanks Stephanie - if we read things like a writer then we'll pick things up and see how they're used. But if we're reading the book for the story etc then hopefully we'll not notice the transitions - except that we know we4 want to keep on reading!

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  15. Wonderful, simply wonderful post! I know when I read advice that includes "...there are no rules." that the person giving the advice is a thinker, not someone wielding a cookie cutter. I am now a fan. Thank you. :-)

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    1. Wow, Teresa - thank you. I know there are people who would disagree and say some things *must* be written a certain way - but that would destroy all originality. I've always believed there are no rules - and written that way - so I hope what I write in fiction appeals to you as much. Thank you for commenting - you made me smile.

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  16. Hi Kate . Lovely post and sums up A question of Honor perdectly. Tgeres no boring bits and all the chapters contain the good stuff :)

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    1. *perfectly (unlike my typing) & * there's

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    2. Hi again Tash. Your typing might not have been perfect but I perfectly understood what you meant - and I'm so pleased you feel that way. It would be tricky - to say the least - if I talked about all this, but the in A Question of Honor I didn't practise what I preach ! ;-)

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  17. Absolutely priceless advice. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hello Reet - and thanks for commentng. I'm so glad that my advice and ideas work for you - priceless is such a compliment ! Thanks you

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    2. Hello Reet -

      Darn it - I posted a comment and it disappeared - so I hope this one goes through all right. I wanted to say thank you for commenting and that it's such a compliment to know that you think my advice is 'priceless' - I certainly hope it helps.

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    3. Ah - now they're both here!

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  18. As long as they need to be -- that's the truth. And we always have to put ourselves in the shoes of the reader. Would we be confused by this scene break? Good advice.

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    1. Hello Milo, thank you for commenting - absolutely 'as long as they need to be'! I've seen long chapters /scenes, and some that are barely a page - all work. I totally agree with you that putting ourselves in the shoes of the reader is the important test - it's not a good policy to confuzzle a reader!

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  19. These are great. Sometimes my critique partners point out to errors I make in transitions. Fantastic post.

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  20. Hello Medeia and thanks for visiting - so pleased that my post helped you. You're lucky to have a good critique partners to help you. Good luck with your writing.

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  21. Awesome. I read something once about ending on an emotional opposite from the beginning of the chapter, and I thought that was genius for helping you to find the natural conclusion of a scene--and to drive the tension. Wonderful advice.

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