Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ask O: How do I Avoid Clunky Transitions?

Happy Wednesday, writing friends!

Today’s question is about transitions. I struggle with these all the time—the ones between sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters…

Lately one transition in particular had me befuddled, so let’s pry into that one. I was clipping along finishing Act 1 of my work in progress (crossing the first threshold, if you’re following the hero’s journey). So I wrote the scene. Lots of intense, gripping, emotional turmoil and satisfying resolve.

I knew what needed to happen next was “tests, allies, enemies.” So I wrote the first test. It flopped like a dead halibut. So I reworked it, and fiddled with it, and rolled it over in my mind. (Been there?)

No matter how I tried, I couldn’t nab that emotional connection. I felt nothing, nada, zip!

Then it hit me. The same thing happened with my first book, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie. I got stuck in the same place with the same missing emotional connection! And I figured out a way to fix it. Ahh … a solution.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you get stuck moving from one act to the next?

Let’s break down how I fixed my clunky transition. Earlier in Act 1, the heroine was given the call to adventure and refused it, choosing instead to stay in the unfulfilling, wayward-thinking reality. But at the end of Act 1, she changes her mind. “I’m tired of living this way. I want to try something new. I’m going for it!” It’s the emotional climax of that act. So exciting!

Voila! The real journey begins. She now meets friends and foes, faces defeats, and experiences small victories. But what about that spot in between these two stops along the way?

Back to Lonesome Prairie. The more I pondered, I intuitively felt the need for my character to take a moment to mourn the life she was giving up. That was the solution. Slow down and let the character feel what she would naturally feel. Even though she possessed great hope of moving to a future far more noble, fulfilling, and suited to her, the old world was all she’d ever known and it hurt to leave it behind.

My heroine, Julia, was leaving her life as surrogate “mother” to a group of orphans, so I added a scene where she could grieve this loss. Sitting on the steps to the orphanage the night before she was to leave, Julia reminisced about the precious memories of her life as their “mother.” She allowed the heart-wrenching pain to penetrate her emotions. It was a sad, emotional scene (yeah, I wept as I wrote it).

Once poor Julia said goodbye, not physically, but in her own heart, I could finally let her move on. In my current WIP, I added a “grieving the old life” scene, and again, it produced the emotional satisfaction my story needed to move to Act 2.

Hmm… maybe we're on to something?

Have you ever found that spot in between Act 1 and Act 2 troubling? What do you do to make a smooth transition?

Don’t forget to leave your writing questions in the comments or at

Happy writing, my friends!



  1. Great tips, O! It is hard to make that step over the threshold smoothly. I'm having the same problem with my story, but between Acts 2 and 3. Maybe the "darkest hour" needs a grieving scene, too? Something to think about - thanks!

  2. Thanks, Angie. I think you may be right. There may need to be a moment of grieving as the hero makes the final plunge into a new way of life. I think the important thing is to listen to your characters and let them tell you what emotions they need to feel and express before moving to the next step. Fun thoughts!


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