On Writing Smooth Scene Transitions (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop!)

There are a lot of hidden trials in writing, and few of these are so integral as the scene transition. Every book has dozens of scenes, and we’ve got to get from each one to the next, so there are at least as many scene transitions in a book as there are scenes… but we don’t always pay close attention to how well our transitions are doing their jobs.

What makes a good transition?

Here are some things that make a scene transition great – whether it be a literally written transition, or a line break between scenes. The rules are about the same for both styles.

It’s clear. Transitions must clearly wrap up the preceding scene, and clearly establish the next. A good one gives resolution to the action of the first, while providing detail to the setting of the second.

It’s not too sudden. If a scene transition is too abrupt for the pace of the story, your reader will mentally trip on it, and it will take them a minute to understand where they are in space and time. The longer the preceding scene and the more intense its action, the longer your lines of transition may need to be to help convert us over. Even in the case of cliffhangers, we can’t feel as if the transition is too sudden. We must be led between them in a way that makes sense, while also still trying to be brief.

It’s usually not a line break. Granted, this is no hard-and-fast rule, but if all your scenes are short and separated by line breaks, your work is going to feel discontinuous (I am guilty of this in my own early drafts). Often, you can easily connect two scenes with just a few lines of text.

It does work. You can use scene transitions, especially textual ones, to highlight something else about a character, or a setting, or the plot. When I fill in line breaks, I like to fix weaknesses my beta readers point out. For example, I added the sample below in a place where a line break used to be. Now look at all the work it does for the character of the person K-1 is sensing:

K-1 blinked and stepped backwards, her head tilting back sharply. Passing overhead through a corridor was a presence she knew all too well.

She changed direction and rushed toward a nearby stairway, her face still lifted to the ceiling. The presence rang of residual heat waves off the distant plains at night. It billowed toward her like damp cloth hung to dry in the shade.

It connects. You’d think this was a no-brainer, but it can actually be quite tough. How do you move, say, from a crime scene to a spa? Even with a line break, that’s a drastic change in connotation, not just visuals. You’ll need to lead us in with something that connects the two scenes. Your detective could rub his face and say, Damn. I need that spa visit more than ever and follow that with a line break. Or, you could work off of the disparity of the two places and say, He looked at his gun, long and sleek and shining, and thought of the black stones at the bottom of the hot spring. He holstered the Glock, and two hours later he left it in the car and met up with Lorraine at the spa.

It is invisible. A good transition does not draw attention to itself: it’s just another section of the sidewalk you must pass over on your walk into town. As a writer, you’re likely to miss your jagged transitions, but a good beta reader is bound to pick up on them. Listen to their feedback, and study how other authors do it in their published work. Scene transitions are underrated and understudied, but they are a valuable asset to any author who knows how to use them.


  1. I’ve never thought much about transitions, because you’re right – they should be seamless. Now I think about it, I have seen a lot of awkward transitions, although they’ve mostly been disguised by other problems such as point of view issues.

    Thanks for the tips!

    1. Oh, you hit the nail on the head there. POV issues are a main player in so many bad transitions. Head-hopping especially can be troublesome. A good rule of thumb is to do a line break whenever POV changes, but many people don’t. A common pitfall.

  2. Some nice tips 🙂 You’ve made me realise that I need to think about my scene transition when it comes to my second draft. At the moment, I’ve just written what flows naturally from my mind, and there are line breaks all over the place. I hadn’t even thought about how well the scenes may or may not connect!

  3. Great tips for writing scene breaks, I’ve never thought about it this way before but I’ll definitely be paying more attention in future! My WIP needs a third read through after I finish draft two so I’ll add scene breaks to my list of things to check 😊

  4. I thought it was very interesting what you said about abrupt scene transitions. The cliff hanger is great, but now I’ll have to think about not being abrupt if the ending in not a cliff hanger. I don’t think it’s good to have too many cliff hangers in a novel. The reader will tire of this, so they must be used wisely. I’m going to add analyzing if a scene is too abrupt to my list of things to check. Thanks for this.

    1. Transitions don’t come up as often when you write one-scene chapters, but it’s definitely still important across chapter breaks to make sure one thing has resolved and the next is starting clearly somewhere new. Transitions are everywhere, and so insidious!

  5. Great article! Scene transitions are THE thing I struggle with every damn time I’m writing. I have noticed that shortish scenes with line breaks have become more popular in the past few years, at least in YA, and I honestly think it’s just because this is one of the hardest parts of writing & authors are expected to pump books out at a ridiculous pace now.

    1. As long as a scene NEEDS to be cut off, then a line break works. The problem happens when we only jump a few minutes or miles. There doesn’t need to be a break there. And, if you DO have a lot of line breaks, your beta readers can tell you whether or not it works. In my own writing, too many breaks disrupted my flow, but it isn’t true for everyone!

  6. Vanessa

    I love that you mentioned that transitions aren’t normally a line break. That is just so true. I love this whole topic and will be saving it for when I am having hard time with a transition!

  7. I read this so carefully, because just today, I was thinking, hmmm, are these transitions back from flashbacks too jerky? I may have a downfall there that I need to consider more. Thank you for posting this to the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. Such great advice, and I look forward to reading what brilliant advice you share next. 🙂 And I’m definitely going to further share this post on social media. Also, has everybody seen what else is on this fabulous website? SO MANY GEMS!

    1. Awww, thank you! I’m hoping to provide more content as I go along. As for flashback transitions, if you’re unsure they’re clear, add a sentence. It won’t kill an agent and should at least help with smoothness. Betas are the best for finding transition problems – if they are good at noticing that stuff, anyway!

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