Friday, November 15, 2013

Don’t Leave Your Reader Behind: How to Tackle Internal Transitions (plus a giveaway!)

Casey here: Rachelle Rea has one of those smiles that is absolutely contagious. Someday I hope to meet this girl in person, because I think we'd jabber for hours ever after. ;-) Rachelle is here to share a couple great editing tips, so get that red pen ready to make some changes! Speaking of would you like to have 50 pages of your work given an edit after the craze of NaNoWriMo has passed? Rachelle is offering one fortunate winner the chance to have her editing services over 50 of your pages. Leave a comment below for a chance to win! :-)

Have you ever been reading a scene in a novel where the conversation centers on the main character’s boyfriend’s puppy—and suddenly someone mentions they
Photo credit
saw Grandma at the grocery store yesterday?
Have you ever been watching a movie in which the music is slow, the dim light depressing, the look on the lonesome man’s face is heartbreaking—and suddenly a chimney sweep steps up and asks him where he bought his shoes?

Have you ever been listening to a song where the tempo is upbeat, the lyrics simple—and then suddenly the singer starts crooning his lines in French?

What?All of these situations caused you to raise your eyebrows, tilt your head, or wonder where I’m going with this, right?J

That’s because these situations lack fluidity, rhythm, a clear segue from puppies to Grandma, loneliness to shoes, a catchy beat to French.

This is one of the most common problems I encounter as an editor.I’ve worked with playwrights and poets, novelists and new authors, and even writers whose first languages aren’t English. A problem common to all is the continuity break—most often, this problem occurs internally in deep POV (rather than aloud as in my examples).

I’ll be trotting through a scene in which the Queen survives an assassination attempt and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the main character’s thoughts veer to what she plans to do Saturday morning.Huh?

This transition makes perfect sense to the author, and it should make perfect sense to readers. There can absolutely be relevance between a foiled assassination and Saturday morning to-do lists. But that relevance must be made clear to readers. Or else they’ll feel left behind.

Here are two ways to tackle transitional thinking:

·         Transitional Words and Phrases
The easiest way to ensure a solid flow of thought while in deep POV is to use tried-and-true transitions. Remember those papers you wrote for your high school English class? How did you jump from paragraph to paragraph (or even from point to point within paragraphs)?
Easy.You didn’t. No jumping allowed. You transitioned instead. You plopped in a Furthermore, a However, an In fact, Nevertheless, or In contrast.

These fun little words and phrases will not only alert your readers that a segue is being made between thoughts, they’ll hint at what kind—if you use furthermore, they’ll expect a type of continuation; if you use however or in contrast, they’ll look for the difference between what’s been said and the contrary thought the character is entertaining.

·         Transitional Thoughts

Let’s say our hero and heroine are elbow-deep in dirty dishes after he’s cooked her dinner (because he’s cool like that). She asks him how work went today. He explains how the guy in the next office spilled his coffee on his shirt, fell out of his chair, and in the process accidentally tripped the fire alarm. He glances at her, expecting a laugh. She pats him on the arm instead. His reaction: Wha…?
He’s definitely confused. But what if we’re in her POV? We’ve gotten short, silent reactions to his story, only they’re not the reactions our hero is hoping for. She’s concerned about the third-degree burns our hero’s coworker may have received and is calculating how much inconvenience her man suffered as a result of the impromptu fire drill. So she gives him a sympathetic look and pats him on the arm with a sudsy hand.

He may be stunned, but because of the snippets of her thought process, readers understand her reaction—and laugh at the confused look on his face.

Those snippets of her thoughts smooth the connection between the story he’s relaying and how she’s hearing it.

So there you have it. Two tips that will work every time there’s a break in continuity, flow, or rhythm in your writing.

Any questions? …Oh, yes, you can absolutely use both methods at the same time.

…How much is too much? Well, a little does go a long way (you never want the transitional method(s) to weigh more than the thoughts on either side), but sometimes you need to apply transitions more liberally—such as when the transition is as out-there as the main character’s boyfriend’s puppy and someone seeing Grandma at the grocery store.

Rachelle Rea believes the power of story can transform, so she studies story as a senior at university this year and lives story in her little town in the South where the air is slightly salty. Find out more about Rachelle's writing, editing, and favorite word at 


HeatherCRaglin said...

I *may* have been told once or twice that I needed to work on the transitions in a particular scene. Thanks for the tips!

Debra E. Marvin said...

I'm glad you pointed out that this is easy to mess up in Deep POV because we can get away with it in our own heads as our minds pop all over the place but I need to watch for this is my writing. ugh. NOT ANOTHER THING TO MESS UP. SURELY!

okay, rant over. Thanks. Please enter me in the drawing (or drarring if you are from the UK) for your editorial services. That's an amazing 'giveaway'!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Rachelle, what a needed post. Thank you. I know I do the whole internal jumping in my mind when I'm writing. :) I love your tips for making it a smooth transition instead. I'm going to work on this as I'm revising. ;)

I have a question, though it may be off topic a little. I sometimes have a hard time transitioning the time lapse between scenes in a natural way. Do you have any suggestions?

I'm with Debra. What an amazing giveaway. Please enter me. :)

Audrey said...

Thanks for the post, Rachelle! I passed halfway on my NaNoWriMo word count a couple days ago, so I'm really focused on the big-picture transitions right now, but this is a great reminder for when I'm ready to go back and clean things up.

Unknown said...

You are so sweet, Casey! Thank you for that (for a record, I think you have that kind of smile, too)! *smiles* I can't wait to meet you in person and jabber, truly.

My pleasure, Heather!

Agreed, Debra. I'd be in so much trouble if this weren't allowed in thought processes. :)

Great question, Jeanne! My advice is study how other books do it. Open your favorite novel, find a scene or chapter break, and see what the author does. The two ways that come to my mind are 1) telling the reader right away ("Two days later, Stephanie was sitting at home...") and 2) not telling the reader right away ("Stephanie was sitting at home drinking coffee when Josh called. She jumped since it had been two days since their date...") Make sense?

Audrey, congrats on the halfway point! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that most of the transitional phrases are better for use in academic and nonfiction writing, than in fiction.

Rachelle O'Neil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachelle O'Neil said...

It's always kind of freaky when you go back over a chapter and go, "How in the world did I make that jump?" Or when your reader can't figure out your meaning and you're convinced that she should be able to... Until you look at the wording. :D Thanks for the suggestions, Rachelle!

Unknown said...

Great post, Rachelle!! Lots of good advice to help make transitions. Thanks for sharing! And PlEaSe enter me in the drawing:) Awesome prize!!

Esther Filbrun said...

Oh, I'm definitely going to remember this. Thanks for sharing, Rachelle!

And please enter me in the drawing. :)

Casey said...

Heather, LOL! Transitions can be hard to nail down for sure! It's like POV, slipperly. ;-)

Debra, It's SO EASILY to loose stuff in a scene isn't it?? I always loose the dog that the hero should be petting/feeding/picking up the poop in the back yard. ;-)

Casey said...

Jeanne, time laspses can be so hard. I'm still trying to learn how to make them seamless without being full of telling. I love Rachelle advice, plus it's a great excuse to go read another book. ;-)

Audray, woo-hoo on the NaNo goal mark! You can totally do that 50k in a holiday month. You're my hero! :-)

Casey said...

Rachelle, SO good to have you on the Alley, (thanks for sticking with me! ;-) Meeting you is going to be so fun and SO epic!!

Heidi, but both can definitely be applied. :-)

Casey said...

Bluebelle, thank you! I'm not the only one who has thought that exact same thing. It's hard to go back and try and track and still not catch on to what you missed!

Cindy, thanks so much for stopping by for Rachelle's post today! Winner will be drawn and announced next week. :)

Esther, welcome to the Alley! Glad you stopped by. Best wishes in the contest. :)

Unknown said...

Heidi, yes, a lot of the transitions we use in academic writing are a bit stiff in fiction, but I think creativity can make up for it. :)

My pleasure, Bluebelle and Cindy!

I hope these tips will prove helpful to you, Esther!

Casey, I laughed. You lose the dog? And, yes, you can always count on me for an excuse (or a reading buddy!) for reading another book! Our first meeting will be epic, indeed! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Rachelle. I've been struggling with this for the past few days in my NaNo novel. This really helped me out!

And please, enter me in the drawing :)


{Just in case you need it, my email is: bookworm9404(at)gmail(dot)com }

Unknown said...

So glad it proved helpful, Micaela! Finish strong! :)

Anna said...

So neat! This is super helpful, thank you!! :)

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the writing tips! I'm currently working on a story, and although I don't know if I have 50 pages yet, I would love to have Rachelle edit what I have. Thanks so much for doing this!

-Michaela :)

p.s. my email is

Unknown said...

Glad to hear it, Anna!

Thanks for commenting, Michaela! Keep up the good work on your story!

Rebecca said...

thanks for the writing advice - and the giveaway is awesome too!