Jul 17 2011

Building Coherent Scene Transitions

Published by at 10:25 am under Plotting,Story Structure,Writing Articles

Generally, I think most scenes should build on their preceding scenes.  Here are some transitions that  might help.

1. A character gets a text/call or otherwise learns something that relates to the next scene.  For example, pretty much every Law and Order case gets saved by a phone call notifying the detectives that the harbor unit just found the body in the river.  Whatever the detectives were talking about before the phone call, this is a really easy way to pivot the story towards the next scene (investigating the body).

2.  A character does something in the first scene that leads into the second.  

  • BAD: John talks with his romantic interest in scene 1 and fights with his boss in scene 2.  This will probably feel awkward because the two scenes don’t appear to be connected in any way.
  • BETTER: John has a spat with his girlfriend in scene 1 because she thinks he’s not making enough money.  The fight makes him late to work (scene 2).  At work, John’s boss gets upset that his personal issues are affecting his work and informs him that he won’t be getting a promotion/raise.  This is more coherent because we can see much more clearly how the two scenes are related.

3.  The first scene somehow foreshadows the next one.  For example, if Spiderman finds some OsCorp gear at a crime scene (like a Power Rangers mask or something), it’d make sense if the next scene had Spiderman trying to figure out how Norman Osborne (the Green Goblin) was connected to the crime.  If you’re not ready to have him leap into that part of the case yet, maybe it’s just a side-element of the second scene.  For example, maybe Peter Parker goes to school the next morning and thinks more about the case in the background, while the focus of the second scene is him doing something else like talking to Mary Jane.  Maybe his conversation with Mary Jane somehow leads him to realize something about the crime he’s looking at and/or is somehow otherwise thematically appropriate for some issue he’s dealing with as a superhero.

4. I would generally recommend keeping your plot arcs more related than not.  For example, if the book is about John, his romantic side-arc shouldn’t feel like a completely different story than his job struggles.  One way to fit them together into a single story is to do scenes where they both come into play.  For example, in the above example, John’s late to work because he got in a fight with his girlfriend, so we can see how the problems from one arc bleed over into the other.  The solutions can also bleed over.

5. The trickiest sort of scene-transition is probably between different point-of-view characters that have not met and aren’t obviously connected yet.  Let’s say you’re writing a novel where the two point-of-views are a superhero and supervillain that haven’t interacted yet.  Even though they haven’t met, you could still probably make the separate narratives feel coherent by having them deal with some common issues.

  • Common themes: For example, maybe both characters are dealing with being really special and/or having more power than the average person could dream of.
  • Common events: For example, maybe both characters have been influenced by the same event (or very similar events).  If the origin story features the villain’s father dying to save the future hero, the villain might grow up bitterly thinking of the father he never had and the hero might regard his sacrifice as a noble example to try to live up to.
  • Foreshadowed relationship: Well, it’s pretty obvious in this case that a superhero and a villain will clash, but foreshadowing the relationship might be helpful if it’s not patently obvious to readers. (For example, if the second character only gradually becomes villainous, readers might get bored with him if they don’t get some impression of why he matters).

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Building Coherent Scene Transitions”

  1. Grenacon 17 Jul 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I have a hard time with scene transitions, mine always feel blocky and just plain ugh.

  2. […] Building Coherent Scene Transitions: A brilliant post that will help you make your book flow a lot better. […]

  3. Caliberon 12 Jul 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Hey, I was wondering if you knew about a TV show called Tower Prep. It aired on Cartoon Network in 2010. It seemed to start off ok and then it got suspenseful and then it got stupid and then it just ended. I don’t know if they were trying to go for the cliff hanger effect, but it didn’t seem intentional. I was wondering what you thought of it and what lessons can be learned from the plot.

  4. Leegirlon 12 Jul 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Yea, I watched that show. Let me tell you, it was fantastic the first few episodes, then like Caliber said, it went down in failing blaze of glory. (LOL) But seriously, what wrong with the story?

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