Many writers I know obsess about transitions from one section or scene to another. It comes up particularly when you are in the editing stage and are moving big chunks of manuscript from one place to another. Everyone (including me) always thinks it will be hugely complicated and difficult, but I have found that it is usually simple. In fact, there often doesn’t need to be a transition at all. That’s why I recommend marking where you think you need them, but then waiting until you read through the manuscript again before actually proceeding. You may find that you can trust your reader more than you thought, that the reader will be able to make the leap without you holding their hand.
If that’s not the case, and you need what I call “connective tissue” to get you from one place to the next, try keeping it very simple, basic, and literal. A very obvious sentence will often work for nonfiction (I find many writers forget the obvious things, because they are so accustomed to them they don’t see what they take for granted. See if you can read with the novice’s eyes and put in what they don’t know.) For fiction, consider that you may not need to start with the transition. Often you can cut to a new moment (in the middle of action), then in the next paragraph backtrack and explain how your character got there.
If this still isn’t helping, pick up a favorite book and study how the author handled transitions. You may be surprised to see how often they weren’t used at all, or were very simple. Give it a try.
Once you have your list of things you know need to be done to your first draft, then you need to go back into the manuscript and make them. There is a specific way to approach this that will make things easier and smoother. Here’s what to do:
- Make a list (if you haven’t yet) of all that you want to do in the manuscript. Divide it into these sections: moving things/transitions/new additions/cuts/line edits
- Make a new copy of your file. The simplest way to do that is to rename the file (also known as “save as”). The working title, with “second draft” after the name, is a good option.
- Move things. Go through your list and tackle these first. Resist the urge to copy and paste. Be brave and cut and paste. That way you won’t inadvertently find duplicated passages. This is why you made a new file. The old one is still there in case you make mistakes. It can also help to mark the changes in your printout first and follow that. The never-ending scroll of a manuscript on the computer can be hard to maneuver without a map.
- Mark transitions. After you’ve moved things, mark where you will need to create or redo transitions from one section to another. If they are easy you can do them now, or you can come back to them later. [see "How To Do Transitions" on 12/12]
- Add new material. Write the new material you need, whether it’s a paragraph or a page. It’s actually easier to write all of these at once than to shift back and forth between editing and new writing.
- Cut the things you don’t need. Create a separate new file called “snippets” or “leftovers” so you know you can use them elsewhere or in another book. (You can also simply move these to the end of your file, but that will become another thing to clean up later.)
- Now that the entire file is in the proper order, with new material added and wrong material removed, go back into the file and do the small fixes and editing changes you’d noticed in your read-through. This is the time to get persnickety and do all those things you meant to do but resisted when writing in flow. This is also the time you can come back and write in transitions if you haven’t yet. [see "How To Do Transitions" on 12/12]
- Save this file, print it out, and read it one more time! Then you will be ready for your first outside reader.