Scene transitions in stories, as in life, don’t get the attention they deserve.
Maybe that’s because they are transient states, in-between bits we must get through to get to the nitty-gritty.
When we think back on our lives, we tend to jump from accomplishment to accomplishment, failure to failure, leapfrogging over the small transitions that got us there in the first place.
Yet, stories rely on transitions. Transitions are the precursors to life-altering events. Handled badly, they make the episodes in a story appear unintentionally jagged and disconnected.
Here are three techniques, chosen from a basket of others, that may help alleviate this common problem – repetition, continuity, contrast.
1. Transition by repetition. A word, action, or response is repeated in consecutive scenes.
In Final Destination 5, a detective interrogates several suspects. To avoid lengthy and superfluous repetition, the detective asks a question in one scene, which is then answered by a series of different characters in consecutive scenes.
“Memorable scene transitions are links where the connection between narrative beats is foregrounded, pointing to the virtuosity of the overall writing style.”
2. Transition by continuity. This technique can help bridge events separated by a small or large gap in time and space,
In 2001, A Space Odyssey, Kubrick famously jump-cuts from a bone being thrown up in the air, to a space station floating in space. Both bone and space station are tools in different stages of human development, but are separated by a span of millions of years. The visual link between the two shots, reinforced by the continuity of image size and movement is so strong that it allows us to make the transition in an instant.
In a similar vain, a character could begin a sentence in one scene, perhaps in medieval times, while someone else completes it in another, hundreds of years hence.
3. Transition through contrasting words or actions. Here, the expectations created at the end of a scene are immediately reversed in the one following it.
Imagine, for example, a scene in which your character, a boxer, George, is trashing his opponent during a pre-fight weigh-in. Cut to the next scene where his opponent lands a thunderous punch to the jaw, knocking George out cold.
Exercise: Think back to a story you’ve written but not yet published. Identify two scenes where the transition seems luck-luster. Create a fitting transition using one of the three techniques mentioned in this article. Let the emotion you want your audience or reader to experience at the moment of transition be your guide.
Use repetition, continuity, or contrast to create effective and memorable scene transitions in your stories.