Writers Untapped—Editorial Solutions
You deserve an editor who will help you untap your story's greatest potential.

Writing Tips & Resources

If you’re a novel writer or a screenwriter, visit this page for helpful tips and advice that will help teach you how to write a book. Creative writing, fiction writing, and editing can be hard. Use these helpful tips on your journey to becoming a successful writer!

The Types of Transitions You Need to Help Smooth Out Your Writing

The title is awkward and probably more of a mouthful than needed, but live and let learn, right?

Transitions are a weird thing to think about. It seems like common sense that writers would know how to transition from one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next, or even one chapter to the next. But time and time again, I see lack of transitions as one of the biggest problems in manuscripts that I edit. Naturally, I decided it was time to write a blog post about it with the hopes of helping writers to be more aware about the different types of transitions that can be used. There are a ton of different types of transitions, and the tricky part is recognizing which transition is needed. Sometimes, it can just be one. Other times, it can be multiple types of transitions. If a paragraph or scene isn’t working or flowing right, it might be because you need to add one or multiple transitions. Below, I’m going to break down the different types of transition you might need to use. With each transition, I’ll give an example from a scene. The transitions will be in bold.

To be clear, these are transition I’m labeling based on what I’ve seen from manuscripts I’ve edited. There’s no official “transition” guide. So I guess I’m taking it upon myself to make one.

Transitions of Time

Okay, so that gif might’ve been more about Tom Cruise than about time. You’re welcome.

Sometimes, your character is doing one thing and then suddenly another in a completely different space and time. You might think readers get it. I mean, it’s obvious Jill was gardening and now she’s cooking dinner for her family, but without a transition of time, it can feel awkward.

If you have any jumps in time that you don’t mention, rethink that decision. Readers need to know if it was morning and is now night. Similarly, if a character is working and is suddenly on a dark subway, readers need to know how much time has passed. Has it been minutes, hours, days? Transitions of time are extremely simple, and usually just a word or two. If necessary, use time as a way to transition from scene to scene.

Example:

Sally spent the day wedding dress shopping with her mom. It might’ve been the most depressing thing in the world to be shopping for her mom’s third wedding dress when Sally was still at zero.

Later that night, she got into bed, thinking about the day she’d get to meet her prince charming.

Transitions of Place

Similar to time, transitions of place are all about orienting your reader to any changes of location. But it’s also about transitioning your reader from one location to the next. Let’s say Bobby is in his village, selling his wares and making money to feed his family. Suddenly, Bobby’s in his room, ready to go to bed. It feels jarring, and the reason is because there needed to be a better transition from place to place. If you have a change of location that just isn’t feeling right, consider adding more of a transition of place to show how character gets from Point A to Point B.

Example:

Sally spent the day wedding dress shopping with her mom. It might’ve been the most depressing thing in the world to be shopping for her mom’s third wedding dress when Sally was still at zero.

After an exhausting day of her mom picking the most scandalous dresses possibly, Sally went home, got into bed, thinking about the day she’d get to meet her prince charming.

Thought Transitions

There are times when characters will speak or do something that doesn’t make sense to the reader or that feels jarring. If a character is speaking or acting out and readers are saying they don’t understand why, you might need to add a simple thought transition. All this means is that you need to add some internal dialogue that shows why the character is feeling the way he/she is. Sometimes it can be a simple sentence; other times it might require an entire paragraph of internal dialogue. But when character actions or dialogue aren’t making sense, go internal.

Example:

Sally’s mom spun around in the tight-fitting dress that plunged far too low in the back and showed way too much cleavage in the front.

Oh God, I’m going to die a spinster. My mom is going to keep getting married, and I’m going to be the cat lady with no cats. I’ll be completely alone. “Mom, I have to get out of here,” Sally said, rushing out the door.

In the above example, the dialogue wouldn’t be enough. There needs to be more of an explanation to show why Sally is reacting like she is.

Dialogue Transitions

Some of the biggest offenders when it comes to missing transitions are in the dialogue category. I often see characters saying something to another character, yet the other character never responds or says something that isn’t in response to the question/statement. Now, sometimes, this sort of non-response can be done on purpose because you want to show avoidance or flightiness. That’s fine. I’m talking about when it’s not done intentionally. If characters are constantly not responding to one another, it can make the dialogue feel awkward and stilting. It’s fine to let a character internally or externally react to dialogue, but you also need to make sure they’re responding orally as well.

I don’t think an example is needed for this one. Just make sure your characters are responding to each other.

Description Transitions

In some cases, dialogue or action happens without enough description. The dialogue might feel jarring because there wasn’t enough backstory or information on the character speaking. The action might feel jarring because there isn’t enough transitional description to orient readers to what is happening. Sometimes it will be a matter of needing to describe a little more, and sometimes, it will be a matter of needed to add description to help something flow a little better.

Example:

Sally’s mom spun around in the tight-fitting dress that plunged far too low in the back and showed way too much cleavage in the front.

Sweat beaded at Sally’s neck, and she felt sick watching her mom twirl round and round. Suddenly it felt like the room was closing in on her, the wedding dress threatening to suffocate her.  “Mom, I have to get out of here,” Sally said, rushing out the door.

And that’s it for transitions! Many times, if a paragraph or scene isn’t flowing, it’s because you need better transitions to smooth it out. Often times, if you don’t have enough distance from your writing, it can be hard to know when transitions are missing. Use beta readers, critique partners, or editors (cough, Writers Untapped, cough, cough) to help identify where transitions might be needed in your writing. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or comment below with any questions!