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Letter to Students: Transitions

Every week of Writing Games class, I send an email to my current students with a few extra thoughts on writing and the themes or techniques we explored that week, plus take-home exercises and more. The Letters to Students blog series collects highlights from some of these emails. To sign up for a Writing Games class, visit my Events page.

A photo posted by @hannahsternberg88 on Jun 25, 2015 at 4:26pm PDT

I think transitions vex writers so much because they can sometimes be the enemy of good pacing. Transitions aren't just difficult to write because of the difficulties we face in inventing incidents to describe in them; they're also just plain annoying because they slow us down when we really want to get to the next good bit. The answer, I found, is that many times you can really dispense with the transition completely. I encouraged everyone to imagine their story as a movie. In a movie or TV show, every scene doesn't end with a slow fade out; sometimes they end with an abrupt cut. It's okay to use a "hard cut" in your writing, too. Especially if you're really stumped by a transition in one particular part of a story, see what happens if you just put those three magical asterisks in a line (indicating a scene break), and then move on. Have you lost anything?

Not that there's no place for the fade-out in literature. But sometimes when we attempt to write a "fade out" for every scene -- a detailed description of what our characters are doing that leads us right into the next scene or brings us to a real-life stopping point, like bedtime -- we're not contributing a lot to the story, we're just padding it because we're not quite sure where or how to cut things off. Go ahead and use fade outs or "cross dissolves" when the additional information you include in this longer transition contributes something to your story. If you think you could take it out without any great loss...please absolve yourself of the duty of writing a long, difficult, torturous transition and just cut to the next scene.

To view all the Letters to Students, click here. 

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