In my own writing I am working on transitions—how do I smoothly cut from one scene to another within a chapter? How do I keep my transitions from bogging down the pacing? Here, I will point out a couple of techniques I noticed in reading Alchemy and Meggy Swann.
#1 Passage of time sets up a transition
On page 12, Meggy has been left by Roger to spend her first night in the skinny house at Crooked Lane. The encounter between Roger and Meggy ends when she, “pulled her cloak over her head and settled back into her nightmares.
The very next paragraph opens with, “Morning came at last, as it ever does.” From here Meggy goes on to experience her second day in London. By having Meggy fall asleep, then wake up, Cushman sets up for a transition from one scene to the next. She does this same thing again on page 34, where one scene ends with, “She slept again, feeling not quite so alone. And thus ended Meggy’s second day in the house at the Sign of the Sun.” The next scene begins with, “She woke to soft rain.” This quick switch from night to day prepares the reader for a change in scene while keeping the story moving forward.
#2 Change in location sets up a transition
When writing a first draft, when I want my character to move to a new location for a new scene, I find that I often show the physical movement from Point A to Point B. This movement serves to interrupt the story's pacing, slowing things down. Cushman demonstrates that the movement is not necessary—just put the character on scene in whatever the next location is. Here, on page 89, Meggy is at Master Allyn’s print shop. The scene ends with, “Meggy bade them farewell, left them to their troubles, and went home to her own.”
A less experienced writer might feel a need to show Meggy hobbling for home, perhaps tossing in a little inner dialogue or conversations with strangers along the way. Instead, Cushman’s next sentence is on scene in the next location:
Her father was seated at the table, a jug of ale before him. He looked up at her, his eyes as flat and black and cold as bits of coal in his pale face.Another example takes place on page 141, where Meggy is home alone, confronted with just how sorry her lot in life is:
She blubbered and sniveled. Finally, damp and exhausted, she wiped her nose, tied her linen cap on tighter, and hurried from the house. There was one thing she could remedy.
The next paragraph opens:
She pounded the bear’s iron paw against the Grimms’ front door, but no one answered.Here again, Cushman doesn’t waste time showing the character moving from Point A to Point B, instead she simply puts the character on location and keeps the story flowing.
StorySleuths’ Tip # 90: To change scenes mid chapter consider a quick shift in time or location to move the story forward without slowing down the pacing.