How to write transitions

I got tired of the double space asterisk break, and decided to write some stuff with transitions and not breaks.

Can I tell you how to write the transitions? I have no idea. It depends on whether or not I actually know anything, and it depends on your writing style and voice, and certainly on the material you’re working with. All I can tell you is how I do it.

The thing I relied upon was the character’s feeling. Of course, the setting helps guide the the character’s thinking, and her interior feeling. That’s what triggers the transition for the character and provides the logic for the reader.

Here’s the first transition from the party to the beach (examples from the Amazon short “Nikki This Hollywood Life” by Vanessa Gordot:

A glass of wine in one hand a cigarette in the other, Nikki eased away from the guy beside her. Not Benjamin. Benjamin was over on the other side of the room yelling in the ear of a skinny kid in rimless glasses.

The guy trying to talk to her was okay and actually about as out-of-place as she was, older if maybe thirty was older, clean-cut, jacket, no tie. He looked like a professor at a girl’s school. She couldn’t hear a thing he was saying. She’d really had it with this party.

“Gotta go!” she screamed, “Nice talking to you!” turning away, not caring if he heard or understood. Jesus, what a zoo.

She used her elbow to push open the sagging screen door and made her way down the dilapidated wooden stairs. Wary of her silk dress, the flaking paint, she stepped carefully, watching out for the cracks between the boards. Following a narrow alleyway, she emerged onto the wide sidewalk that separated the buildings from the beach.

And there was the Pacific Ocean.

The sun had just gone below the horizon and a swath of neon pink and fuchsia splashed across the sky. It looked like a set decorator’s idea of a sunset, a wash of vibrant color on a pale blue scrim, way over the top.

“Fake,” she breathed.

Here’s the transition from the beach to the flashback. You know the fiction notion of starting a scene as far into as possible? This occurred to me at the time, so I started the flashback at the very end of it, as she’s leaving it: [Caution, adult language ahead]

She sat there, holding her shoes in her lap, watching the night fold out over the Pacific, thinking about Michael Brockton and the Oscars and how the trades always mentioned his captivating crooked smile, weighing what she would have to do to retrieve the lighter she’d left upstairs against how much she didn’t want to end up letting Benjamin take her home and screw her. He always wanted to put her on her hands and knees, as if he wanted to be Christian Bale in American Psycho. Whatever happened to plain, old-fashioned face-to-face fucking?

Maybe it was the ocean, the sky, the sunset, the inexorable gathering of day into night, this perfect seascape evening sliding down the western slope of the world. Maybe it was a moment of lonely calm. From wherever it came, the awareness floated into her mind that she didn’t like herself anymore.

It was creepy, this wanting to float off into nothingness, to let go of the endless pretending, to never again have to look at her face in a mirror. The icy feeling curled around inside her.

She knew it was the aftermath, the fall-out.

Tuesday of last week she’d come out of the hotel room, the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Beach hotel room, the heavy door swinging closed behind her, the lock clicking into place with a steel-embedded-in-oak finality. It was like the last sound that echoes through the theater at the very end of a really good noir picture. The audience is hushed, then the sound of that clicking lock breaks the tension and everyone knows it’s over and they can start breathing again.

The door closed behind her, she walked down the hallway, even the hallways rich and luxurious, feeling strangely proud of herself. Hell, that wasn’t so bad. If that’s all it took, if that’s all it was. She could do that. Not as a regular thing, no. But if that’s what it took, she could do it.

She’d been tipsy, well actually pretty blotto, but that wasn’t an excuse. She knew what was happening every moment, saw it with the clarity that comes with enough champagne cocktails. You might not be able to drive too well — though actually after it was all over she had driven herself home, no problem — but you could see the face and the eyes of the person you were with, see what was behind them.

[There’s a full discussion of writing this story elsewhere.]

Here’s the transition from her apartment to the metro in the first part of  “Zoe in Real Life.” It seemed to me that if I was describing things, if Zoë was clicking right along, all I needed was a short sentence.

The bastard! It was time for a change.

She dressed quickly, throwing on a tiered chemise in a buttercup shade that showed off her figure, a cream colored pleated skirt, sandals and a cropped silk jacket in a nautical stripe. She wore her dark hair loose. She ran a comb through it, ruffled it with her fingers, shook her head and she was ready. She caught the metro.

The train was full, all the seats taken, a throng pressed together in the aisle, jostling against each other as the train wove its rumbling way through the black, crooked tunnels, bumping through switches, stopping and starting, the yellow lights flickering. Someone was pressed tight against her from behind, and Zoë cast a quick glance.

Here’s the transition from the metro into her daydream, which becomes a brief scene:

As the car lurched the young man’s leg pulsed against her derrière in a not altogether unpleasant way. Zoë shifted to increase the contact. Warmth seeped into her tummy and she thought of the woman in the pictures, the model for Enrique’s porn. Who was she? What was her name? She was young enough, was she perhaps attending the university, a friend of the young man rubbing against her?

Zoë felt her sensibilities become hazy. The porn girl, Veronica, she would call her. And the student behind her, he was Clément, a gentle, loving soul, but poor, oh so poor. Yet he was brilliant, gifted beyond so many others. But he had no connections, no patron, so he depended entirely on Veronica for his support. Veronica, with little education and no connections of her own, with nothing but her unusual beauty and long legs, had turned to a shark, a greasy Sicilian, borrowed money she could not now repay. Of course the inevitable came to pass. The Sicilian caught up with her on a street in the Sixth, took her elbow, directed her to a corner table in a café away from the few other customers.

Here’s a transition from a flashback within the restaurant scene into another of Zoë’s daydreams:

They’d been the very best of friends ever since the day four years before—they’d been fifteen—when they pledged their loyalty on a summer afternoon beneath a bridge beside the shimmering Seine.

They’d stood close, facing each other. “Put one hand here,” Heidi said, placing Zoë’s right palms on her breast, “and the other here.” She put Zoë’s left hand on her crotch. Zoe felt Heidi’s pubic bone, her fingers curled into the unusually wide space at the top of her thighs.

Then Heidi put her hands on Zoë’s breast and cupped her minou.

“Now we kiss,” Heidi said. “Don’t forget to open your mouth.”

Their lips touched delicately, sensuously, and Zoë felt Heidi’s pink tongue come slipping into her mouth, tickling, teasing at her own. The kiss went on for minutes, the two of them like statues, only their tongues exploring, dancing together. When they broke Zoë was breathless. Heidi’s eyes glittered like the sun on the water.

“I adore you,” Heidi said simply.

“And I you,” Zoë admitted, a bit embarrassed at the state the little blond vixen had brought her to.

They’d been meilleures amies ever since.

Recalling the feeling, Zoë’s mind swept back to the girl she’d imagined earlier on the metro, Veronica. Veronica, who was both Clément’s girlfriend and also Enrique’s porn girl. What had happened? Oh, yes, Salvatore had sent her to meet a strange man with the promise of a thousand euros. But for what in exchange?

It was a modest hotel, small lobby, tidy elevator and hallways, though not of the first rank, and Veronica tapped lightly on the door of room 403.

A masculine voice: “It’s open.”

It was a sitting room, fairly large, patterned green carpet, furniture from perhaps twenty years ago, long off-white sofas on either side of a glass-topped coffee table and beyond them tall windows with sheer curtains, and a man looking down at the street, hands clasped behind his back.

When he turned, Veronica recognized him: the owner of a shoe store and nearby dress shop on Avenue Montaigne. His precious little mustache was centered in a round face. He wore a morning coat and pinstripe trousers.

There you go. Hope it helps.


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