Autumn in Fort Collins, Colorado, came sudden and quick without transition during the second week of September.
The sudden change is just as disturbing as reading a novel that jumps scenes without explanation or warning. Granted, Colorado’s weather often is fickle, switching from sunny to rainstorms and back within the same day. Or being hot and dry one summer and rainy the next.
Even so, I got a shock when I went from hot summer weather to temperatures in the 40s the next day and by the weekend returning to late summer warmth with temperatures in the 70s, or near perfect.
Instead, I like to ease into a change of season, just as I like to focus on smoothing out any transitions when I revise my short stories and novels.
Transitions are essential to keep the direction of the storyline clear, instead of skipping, without any explanation, from one time or place to another so that the reader doesn’t know exactly where they are in the story.
Transitions serve as a bridge that signals a shift in the story, such as a change in time, place, mood, tone or point of view.
They mark a scene break, or shift in scene, ideally at the moment of heightened suspense, causing the reader to want to know what happens next.
Marking that break can be done in several ways, including the most basic of using dingbats, asterisks or extra spaces.
The point-of-view character’s physical environment, or what’s happening around her, can transition into her internal thoughts, memories or reflections.
The character may see an object or hear something that triggers recollections of some event from her past. Or the tense can be changed—such as present to past or past to past perfect—to indicate her entry into or exiting out of the memory or flashback.
Dialog is another technique to return her to the scene at hand, though she might ask, “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”
Transitions serve as that road map, or weather guide, keeping the reader within the story world, so that moving between time and place seems natural without suddenly needing to change clothes or pull out the umbrella, wondering what to do next.