Wednesday, May 25, 2011

T is for Transitions: Avoid Confusing Middle Grade Readers

There are lots of places in a novel where you need to include information about a change in location, a change in time (e.g. it’s now two days later), or a change from one plot event to another. These connecting parts need to blend in or they can interrupt the flow of the story.

If you’re writing MG, transitions can be tricky.

Too much detail. If takes too long to explain how your character got from one place to another, or that it’s now the next day, you risk losing your reader’s interest. Sometimes, it’s best just to quickly tell the reader, rather than drawing out the movement by showing through actions. But at the same time, you don’t want to tell the reader too much. Long drawn out transitions can slow down the pace of the story. Some questions to ask yourself: Does the reader really need to know this? Does it matter to the story?

Too fast. A quick change of scene or time might easily confuse a MG reader. Make sure you have enough information to orient the reader, so they know where the character is in your scene. You can prepare the reader for a change in place or event in the last line of a chapter or paragraph. This allows anticipation of what might be coming next. Some questions to ask: Does the reader know where my character is? What do they need to know for this to make sense?
The key is to strike a balance between giving information while not slowing down or pulling the reader out of the story. Here are a few tips:
Make them natural. The transitions I use mostly fit in logically with what is happening in the story. For example, if your character doesn’t usually notice the way the light falls on the trees, then using that detail to show a transition will seem awkward or stick out to the reader.
Use sensory details. One effective way to signal a change is through a character noticing a different sensation, e.g. a change in light to signal the time of day, an unusual smell when walking into a new place.
Watch for repetition. Words signalling a transition can easily become overused in your story. Some examples:  “Suddenly”, “All at once”, “Then”, “Next”, and “But”.  

For more ideas, check out some of the great articles in the links below. Do you have any tips for how to create effective transitions?
*If you know of any other resources on this topic, let me know and I'll add the link.

Janice Hardy, author of the MG novel Shifter, blogs about why transitions are important and where your novel needs them, as well as some great tips for making transitions seamless.
In a guest post at Robin Lucas’ blog, Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse gives us strategies for helping writing flow from scene to scene.

Lydia Sharp gives some pointers on ways to show the passing of time.
Over at Mystery Writing is Murder, Elizabeth Craig and Riley Adams talk about some of the problems with writing transitions.

Allison Valentine Schrier shows us two ways of writing transitions, using examples.
P.C. Wrede, author of the middle grade novel Thirteenth Child, part of the Frontier Magic series, discusses jump-cut and narrative transitions.

Juliette Wade provides a few tips on using transitions to keep the story moving forward.


  1. And it sounds so easy, doesn't it?

  2. This entire post is marvelous. Your advice, the links, everything. Thank you. I keep a list of posts to return to; this is now on it.

  3. Transitions! Ugh! I don't like them. I need to work better at them.

    Thanks SO much for these links Andrea. :)

  4. Great post! Thanks to Barbara for tweeting the link. These are well timed thoughts and links as I work through a rewrite.

  5. Excellent points! I love how you think with the age of your reader in mind.

  6. Glad you all find this helpful! I do add more links to the ABCs posts as I find them.

    Laura, if only it was as easy as it sounds!

  7. Great reminder. Transitions are so difficult sometimes.

    Thanks again!

  8. Great tips although these can apply to any level story not just MG Fic.


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