Transitions: From Here to Eternity
- Or Maybe Next Week

Copyright Cynthia VanRooy - All Rights Reserved


Transitions—getting from here to there, now to then, or her point of view to his—are really not so tricky. Equipped with a few basic rules and techniques you can change time, place, and POV (point of view) easily.

Let’s start with time. Say the inciting incident (the action where the plot actually begins) is a meeting between the hero and heroine and he asks her out for a date the following week. A lot of new writers think they have to tell the reader what went on every day until the date to let us know that a week has passed. That’s not necessary unless something that happened during that week is pivotal to the plot. If the next important point is the scheduled date, then just take the reader right there. One simple phrase grounding the reader in the new time and place is all it takes.

A week later Jake stood at Merri’s front door clutching the last-minute bouquet of roses he’d picked up at the grocery store and suddenly remembered she had said she was allergic.

This works whether the span of time is ten minutes, ten days, or ten years. In the case of an especially long time, I also like to add a space or a line with three asterisks. It signals the reader that there is a large gap in the story and prepares them for a change. The wording is handled the same way though. Let the reader know where they are in the story and move on. Say you have a scene that takes place at a high school prom. The next scene is ten years later.

Ariel walked into the old high school gym, surprised at how much the same it looked. The place should have changed more in ten years. God knew, she had.

You see, you don’t need to fill in with boring, inconsequential details just to tell the reader that time has passed. Go right to the scenes that matter and get on with the story. You could do the earlier scene as a prologue or as the first chapter to set it apart from the following one. The important point to remember is to always let the reader know where and when they are in the story. Aim for clarity. Confusing your reader is never a good thing.

Transitions of place work the same way. You don’t have to log every mile and rest stop of a journey unless a character is mugged at one. Ground the reader at the new location and pick up the action.

The long drive to Santa Monica had been uneventful unless Troy counted the number of fender benders and traffic jams that dotted the road between San Francisco and there, and he didn’t. It was dusk before he managed a run on the beach to work the kinks out.

Longer trip, same method:

They were there. After a two-year journey, the gentle landing should have felt more dramatic somehow. After all, Marva and her crew were making history piloting the first manned—or womanned—space flight to arrive safely on Mars.

Transitioning from one point of view to another is a little trickier, but not much. If I want to change POV in the middle of a scene, I usually start a new chapter and begin it in the new POV. By ending a chapter in the middle of the scene, I’ve created an automatic hook to the next chapter and the reader is alerted to a change. To change POV in the middle of a chapter, I insert a line of asterisks and on the next line after that begin the new POV. In either case, start with a statement that lets the reader know right away whose POV you’re writing from:

Tom studied the woman in front of him trying to place her. He knew he’d seen her somewhere before.

A more seamless way of managing POV change if you don’t like the above methods is to anchor the change with something tangible. In the following example, which changes from his to her POV, it’s the rain. Begin the new POV with a new paragraph.

He stood at the window watching the rain as it fell on the already soaked ground and wondered when they’d finally get a break in the weather.

Rain. Again. Melanie had forgotten how much she hated this damp, God-forsaken climate.

The trickiest transition for a lot of writers is finding their way into a flashback and back out again. How do you manage the tenses and tell the reader that the action is something that happened prior to current story time? You want the excitement of showing, not telling, so you can’t—or shouldn’t—have the character simply relaying a list of memories. You want action . Had is the magic word that can accomplish this. Don’t over use it though. While it would be technically correct to write every verb in the flashback in the past perfect tense, all those hads would also render your writing unwieldy and awkward. Use one had to ease your reader into the earlier scene, then shift back to regular story time past tense for the remainder of the flashback until you get to the last sentence. Use another had in the last sentence to ease your reader painlessly out of the flashback and back into regular story time.

He remembered prom night like it had happened yesterday. He felt young and awkward and embarrassed to be driving his father’s Buick. Amanda swished through the parking lot in a formal that probably cost more than he made in a month.

"Hi, Jamie. New car?" Her smirk said everything. . . . Body of flashback . . .

His parking space was a tight fit. As he was backing out in front of everyone, the sight of Amanda momentarily distracted him. The gut-clenching sound of his bumper connecting with the car behind him was followed almost immediately by Amanda’s laughter. He had been humiliated almost to the point of tears. He still flushed thinking about it, even now.

Not so hard, is it? So whether you’re trying to get your characters from here to eternity or some time and place a little closer, the trip needn’t trip you up. Bon voyage!


About the author: Cynthia VanRooy is an award winning romance novelist with eight books published by both print and epublishers. Her ninth romance will be released late 2005 by New Age Dimensions. Additional details can be found at Cynthia's website.


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