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Mastering Scene Transitions

December 16, 2010 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified February 14, 2011

pencil in handA scene transition takes characters and readers to a new location, a new time, or a new point of view. Transitions can also be used to show a character’s change in heart or frame of mind.

Transitions are important in fiction because the writer can’t possibly portray or account for every moment in a character’s day, week, or life. A story may stretch over years—readers don’t need to know what happened every minute of those years.

So, we use scene transitions to skip periods of time or to change to a new location in the story, glossing over events that happen between the new and old times or locations.

Scene Change, New Chapter
Scene transitions can be seamlessly inserted at the beginnings of chapters since readers expect a transition between chapters. In fact, you don’t need to write a detailed transition if you ended the previous chapter with a teaser of what’s to come.

Take this example:

He couldn’t wait to see his brother’s expression when he showed up at the wedding with Paul’s hated ex-wife.

If this is the end of chapter three, chapter four can easily begin at the wedding with little explanation or description, especially if the writer has already provided details about the place and time of the wedding. Even if he hasn’t, we only need a simple setup:

Mark walked into the hotel’s ballroom, his former sister-in-law on his arm. He smiled when he saw his brother’s smile freeze into a gremlin’s glare.

Of course, the setup at the end of chapter three could be for a scene that’s delayed and chapter four could take us somewhere completely unexpected. In which case, a clear scene transition is needed.

Paul stood before his office window, tossing his lucky baseball from hand to hand. He knew his brother Mark had something planned, something that would shock or alarm him. But Mark hadn’t tipped his hand. If he was going to do it, whatever it was, before Paul left for his honeymoon, it would have to be soon. The wedding was in five hours. Certainly even Mark wouldn’t embarrass him at his wedding.

Scene transitions need to identify place, time, and viewpoint character, especially if there’s been a change in any of the three. If the new scene has a change in mood or tone, that should also be established right away.

If the viewpoint character has changed, identify the new viewpoint character right off by naming him.

Time and place can be established in any number of ways. By

  • naming the place
  • describing the place
  • describing the event
  • mentioning the time or day or date
  • showing a character doing something we already knew he’d be doing at a set time or in a particular place

Scene changes within chapters
Not all scene changes occur between chapters. Sometimes you need a scene change within a chapter.

For a visual aid, add ###, centered on a line, to indicate a scene transition in a manuscript. (Such symbols are often changed to extra line spaces in printed books.)

Use the techniques mentioned above to identify the scene change. If it’s only point of view that’s changing, be sure to identify the new viewpoint character immediately. (A change in point of view qualifies as a change in scene because the reader is in the head of a different character—different thoughts and emotions. There’s probably a different tone to this section as well, as you’d expect with a different character’s personality both coloring and filtering the reader’s perceptions.)

Unless you’re a famous author who makes a bundle of money for your publisher, do not change point of view in the middle of a scene. Never change POV within a paragraph.

You want your readers to flow with the fiction; you never want them stuttering or getting lost. You certainly don’t want any of them to have to reread because you failed to provide enough scene markers. Each time a reader stops reading because he doesn’t understand or has gotten lost or has to reread a passage, he is pulled out of the fiction you’ve crafted. You lose the reader’s trust when he is repeatedly yanked from the fantasy world he’s trying to become lost in.

Changing POV without notice and within scenes causes two major problems. First, it confuses the reader. He has to halt the fiction to figure out why Eugene is putting on perfume when the author hasn’t clearly indicated we’re now in Francine’s head. The reader has to change from enjoying the imaginary—using his creative side—to figuring out why something is so—using his analytical side.

And second, the reader loses the connection he had with the viewpoint character. You work to create connections for your reader, so he can step into the mind and heart and life of a character. If you’ve done it well, the reader will read as if he’s experiencing the events on the page.

Each time you change POV, however, the reader is pulled out of one character’s head and dumped into another’s. He must reorient himself, and this can take time. It can also be enough of a distraction that he puts down the book, no longer lost in the fictional world.

You can change point of view—readers are used to it. But do it well. Give the reader warning. And don’t jump POV from character to character to character within the same scene.


Transitions can be short. A two-word scene transition? That night…

They can be as long as a couple of paragraphs. (But shouldn’t extend much beyoond that. If they’re too long, they become info dumps and/or long stretches of telling when instead the story should have moved to showing.)

A scene transition is not a scene in itself; it’s the narration between scenes. Yet a novel is a series of scenes. Too much narration turns a novel into a report.

Scene transitions can be pure narrative, a recitation of who did what and when. Narration is often discouraged since it’s telling rather than showing, but narration is quite useful for transitions. It’s an efficient way to indicate a change in place or time and provide details without drawing out the information into a scene of its own.

Uses of scene transitions

  • to provide description
  • to break tension
  • to slow the pace
  • to skip unimportant events or time periods
  • to create or switch mood or tone
  • to advance the time
  • to change location
  • to change viewpoint character

While scene transitions can be used to change the tone, they could be used just as easily to maintain tone. That is, if your story is humorous, keep your transitions humorous too. If the tone is dry or sarcastic, write dry or sarcastic transitions.

These tips should help to keep your scene transitions on track.


Examples of transitions using the same character but written for different styles of stories:

  • Jan raced across town, her heart pounding, knowing she’d never reach her mother in time.
  • Jan raced across town to meet her mother—it was a command request from the Queen of Outrageous Demands.  Jan was so keen to meet her mother that she stopped at only three department stores, had her nails done—fingers and toes—and waited in line 45 minutes for the car inspection she’d put off for at least a month before knocking on her mother’s double-glazed doors.
  • Only a week later, Jan stood at her mother’s door, gifts in hand and excuses at the ready.
  • Jan arrived at her mother’s apartment two days later and five pounds heavier. The idea of facing the woman who’d birthed her, failed to nurture her, and often forget her always turned on Jan’s need-to-eat gene.



Tags: ,     Posted in: Craft & Style, Writing Tips

96 Responses to “Mastering Scene Transitions”

  1. Jackie Rod says:

    Thank you for the insightful information on scene transitions. As a newbie, it has been difficult for me to know exactlly when a scene or chapter should end. :)

  2. Jackie, I’m glad you found this useful. Good luck as you work on your first manuscripts.

  3. Beth Hull says:

    Thank you for this. I just received a reader’s report from an agent and was entirely confused re: the transition problems mentioned. Now I’ll be much more confident as I tackle revisions!

    I also must say, the similarity of our names is a little eerie.

  4. Beth, I thought I’d left myself a comment for a moment there.

    Have fun with those revisions. And when you’re working on scene transitions, just remember what you need to accomplish with the transition and make sure to accomplish that. Also, make sure your scene and chapter transitions don’t all take on the same style or formula. Include variety even in transitions.

    I wish you great success.

    • Beth Hull says:

      Thanks, Beth – I appreciate it! I definitely need to work on variety. I noticed I had quite a few scenes opening with the character waking up, which, as we all know, can get very boring.

  5. Putting a character to sleep or waking him up is a tough sell, the going to sleep part especially. You don’t want readers joining the characters in slumber. But now that you’re aware, you’ll start looking for other ways to open scenes.

  6. Jade says:

    Hi there
    Thanks a lot for the information.

    I’m currently writing my first novel and am having a few problems with scene changes within chapters. The Novel I’m writing I plan on publishing as an eBook initially and having it printed as a book depending on the response I get from it as an eBook. You have said: ‘For a visual aid, add ###, centered on a line, to indicate a scene transition in a manuscript. (Such symbols are often changed to extra line spaces in printed books.)’, I’d like to know if this would be applicable to an ebook too or not.



  7. Jade, for the e-book, since you are basically your own publisher, you’ll want to put the line space in instead.

    I know there are several online guides for e-book publishing to help writers with formatting. Check out at least one of those for specifics.

    And here’s to great success for your novel.

  8. Thanks for this article, I actually found it VERY informative. I’m currently working on my first draft of my first novel and found the need to transition scenes in the middle of a chapter. I didn’t think it was going to be possible without confusing the reader but you gave great ideas. :)

    Thanks thanks thanks!


  9. Krissy, I’m glad to have been of help. Good luck with the first novel—I’m certain you’re having a great time with it.

  10. Judith says:

    Hi Beth,

    Great site. I have a question. What is the proper writing format and transitional devices in a novel for a character’s fantasy and changes in POV within it?

    Many thanks.

    • Judith, you can treat a fantasy the same way you’d treat a dream and a flashback.

      This means you can introduce the fantasy by showing the character knowing that he’s embarking on a fantasy moment, with wording that would introduce the fantasy scene . . .

      Jake closed his eyes and immediately felt himself in New Orleans, surrounded by the wail of a single alto sax and the humid heat of a Cajun night.

      Jake wished he was in Paris. He could almost taste the air, that alluring aroma that hung over Renee’s flat.

      Jake stared at the actors on the stage. But what he wanted to see were the fields of sasson wheat blowing in the breeze on Nedra Five. He allowed the words of the play to fade as he imagined . . .

      At the end of the scene, show the character recovering himself from the fantasy with whatever’s appropriate. Is he embarrassed that he missed something in his real world while he fantasized? Did he miss his highway exit and go 40 miles out of his way and now need to turn around? Did he give himself away to others?

      A second option is to use physical scenes breaks to mark the start and end of a fantasy, just as you would any other scene. But it’s likely that you want to show that the scene is a fantasy. So give the reader some kind of clue at the beginning of the scene so he knows that what follows is a fantasy.

      As for a change of POV in a fantasy scene? It’s not likely that you’d change the POV—a fantasy is typically only in the mind of one person. Does the character imagine himself as several people in the fantasy? If so, it’s still the same character.

      Now, if we’re talking two characters sharing a fantasy in their minds because something in your story world allows that to happen, that would be a little different. To show a switch in POV, you’d do it just as you would in any other scene, which usually means a scene break. If the scene is fairly long, a scene break would be the way to go. If the scene is short but you need to show it from the minds of two characters, try it without a physical scene break. Show the characters passing the thoughts between them, maybe with an awareness that they’re sharing the fantasy. One way to show a switch would be for one character to physically touch the other and for the second character to then be the viewpoint character. You would use the name of the second character and his or her thoughts to signal that the viewpoint duties had changed hands . . .

      He couldn’t resist. He had to touch her. He reached his hand toward her face.

      Lanie lifted her head when Tomas stroked her cheek. She’d couldn’t believe the tenderness in his gaze, the power in his touch.


      Do keep in mind that this is what’s known as head-hopping, which you normally do not want to do. But if they’re sharing a fantasy, this may fit right in with your setup. If they know they’re in a fantasy together and both have a consciousness, this might work.

      Does that help?

  11. Hello,
    I’m writing an ebook series consisting of short stories which I have not published quite yet. But the first short story ebook will be out Dec. All summed together, the eBooks will make up a novel.

    I had a question maybe people are willing to help me with.

    I’ve written the first two ebooks 1st POV from only one character’s point of view. I’m editing the third now, and I want to switch between 2 characters in different scenes. In trying to consistent with first 2 ebooks, is there any way to do this while using 1st person?

    Can a writer start a scene saying person’s name, “Ace walked to the creek looking down”, then switch to first person, “I stared into the flowing current, feeling lost.”

    Is this an allowable method?

    • A good question, Bryce.

      You always want to start a new scene in the POV in which the rest of the scene will be written. So, no, if Ace and I are the same person, you can’t write the two sentences this way. If the scene is first-person, it needs to start that way from the top of the scene.

      That said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with switching between two first-person narrators. Each chapter—or even back-to-back scenes—could be told from the viewpoint of different first-person characters. Sometimes writers identify the narrator through a chapter heading or subheading, but there are other ways of identifying the narrator. But your instinct is spot on—you do want to let the reader know right away whose viewpoint she is reading.

      Options to identify multiple first-person narrators at a scene change—
      ~ Use a word only one character would use.
      ~ Use a sentence construction only one of the characters would use.
      ~ Show the character focused on something that immediately identifies which character it is.
      ~ Have another character call the narrator by name.
      ~ Have the narrator think of the other narrator by name so readers will know this narrator is not the named one.
      ~ Have the character think or talk to himself by name. But don’t fall into the habit of always having the character do this. This practice of talking to self can get annoying for the reader. And most real people don’t do it often. Save it for unusual circumstances or for emotional outbursts.

      Does that help?

  12. Dan Proulx says:

    I am working on a novel of my own, as I have always had a love for writing. Over the years, I found myself starting and dropping various writing projects, and have always found myself terrified of scene transitions regardless of the project (mainly transitions that connect two different locations together). From what I have read on the site, I feel that you provided some key tips that will help cope with my “transitional fears” more effectively. I do plan to re-read through this page thoroughly, and appreciate the encouraging words of wisdom.

  13. Xilus says:

    Hello Beth,
    I am rather new to writing but it is one of my passions. I’ve read the article and found it helpful but I do have a question. I think you mentioned it when replying to another person but I’m still confused as to how you would switch between more than one character in a chapter, if you’re even supposed to do that. I have two main characters in my story and I want to explain what each is doing without beginning a new chapter but I can’t get it to flow. Any help would be very much appreciated.

    • Xilus, the simplest way to make the change is to write a scene change. Use a visual scene break—the number symbol or a series of three asterisks—to show a change of scene or a change of viewpoint character/narrator. You can easily do that midchapter without causing a problem.

      You don’t want to bounce back and forth between viewpoint characters multiple times per chapter, of course, so decide when you’ll switch and then just do it. Leave the first character’s viewpoint scene with a hook, just as you’d do at the end of the chapter, and introduce the new section by showing us who the new viewpoint character is.

      So, for example, at a party, we have Alice and John. The first scene is in John’s viewpoint and the second is in Alice’s.


      Downing the rest of his beer, John gave the room a final check. No, no one worth checking out. Coming had been a waste of time, as he’d known it would be.

      Why’d he ever listen to Jake’s wife? Some psychic she was. Meet his destiny at this lame party? Right. That’s why he was jogging for the door, the same guy he’d been when he’d arrived—alone and frustrated.

      His destiny had obviously mislaid her party invitation.


      Alice slipped off her coat and handed it to the coat-check girl with a murmured thanks. She inhaled a deep breath, turned toward the ballroom with a firm resolve, and strode forward. Before she’d gone half a dozen steps, some guy barreled into her, the momentum carrying her into the wall at her back. Once she caught her breath—and the stars cleared from her vision—she lifted her chin.

      “You,” she whispered.

      The guy raised a brow. Then he smiled, long and slow.

      Maybe the stars hadn’t cleared from her vision. ‘Cause the guy who’d just run into her—the guy still pressed up against her body—was the man from her dreams.

      Not the man of her dreams; that was Andy. But the guy smiling at her and only now backing out of her personal space was the man she’d been dreaming about every night for the past two weeks.

      “Tell me your name is Destiny,” her dream man said.


      Does that give you an idea of what you can do?

      The characters don’t even have to be together. You can change setting and advance forward through time at a scene break midchapter. You can show a scene across the world. Just remember to include setting details—time (or time passing since the previous scene or time passing since we’ve been with the viewpoint character) and place—and the identity of the viewpoint character.

      If you have a specific example, feel free to share it.

  14. Adrianna says:

    Thank you! I struggle with transitions, and this helps.

  15. Sammi says:

    Thank you for this very informative guide!

    I am working on a draft of a novel and in my first chapter I am trying to convey changes in scenes without the usual kind of transitions. My transition in my first chapter is as follows: a group of kids are introduced and are talking, then they see a man in a car then I introduce the man in the car and reveal his thoughts as he drives across town, and another group of kids sees the man in the car and I switch to those kids and introduce them… Is it okay to have this man in the car serve as the transition between the two groups of kids when I am trying to switch the action from the 1st group of kids to the 2nd? Or is it too much on the reader to keep in his or her head? Too much information and too many characters?

    Thank you so much!!!

    • Sammi, this might work. But if you’re only using the man as a viewpoint character for one or two scenes and then you’re going to do the same thing with other characters, using them as viewpoint characters, that’s a lot of character heads you’re dumping readers into.

      Almost anything can work, so I don’t want to say it can’t, but what do you gain and what do you lose by doing this? Would an omniscient narrator work for you? Had you considered that? You can still show us random character’s thoughts but it’s done in a more systematic way.

      But if your driver isn’t a character who will feature in the story and he won’t get to do the viewpoint duties for any other scene, there’s not really much reason for readers to hear his thoughts and follow him across town. There is absolutely nothing wrong to simply change scenes from one group of kids to the next. Use an action or an image or just a word if you want to have some kind of connection between the two groups.

      Does that help?

      • Sammi says:

        Thank you Beth! It does help!

        Your comments opened my eyes to the bigger picture. I do plan to use the character in the car again in the novel. I think the best thing to do is for me to write the scenes with and without him to see what works best. More work but bigger reward :)

  16. Paulina says:

    Thanks for the article! It was just what I was looking for and more. Although I do have a question, because for the story I’m writing the scene change takes place a month in the future, and I’m writing a quick recap over what happened in that month because it is essential to the story. I can’t come up with anything less cliche than ”that brings me to today ” when I’m done with the recap. Any advice? Thanks in advance!

    • Paulina, there are an infinite number of ways to write transitions. I’ll include a few to give you some ideas.

      Just keep in mind that they can be fairly short—a line or two—or they can be longer. You just don’t want them going on for pages. Only include the details of that month that are vital to the story.

      It looks like you’ve got a first-person narrator, so how about—

      I spent the next month not thinking about Melvin. I didn’t think about him the four days I crammed for the CPA exam. I didn’t think about him when I took my nephews to the beach. And I certainly didn’t think about him when I went on my honeymoon. But after thirty-two days of not thinking about him, I was ready to give him my full attention. So I drove to his house, only to find his driveway filled with police cars.


      Although I dreaded the trip, I visited my father, as I had been promising to do for six months. That I’d also promised to visit for the six months before that, well, that I don’t mention. And the trip wasn’t bad. We caught up on family news—the kind not featured on CNN. And I helped him shore up a couple of fences. We also worked on his Corvette, the one he always promised to give me. I didn’t want it, so the fact that I still didn’t own the heap at my age was no big deal; who wanted a car that didn’t run?

      After two weeks we were in a groove, completing chores with ease. After two weeks and a day, we were fighting again. And after two weeks, three days, and five hours, we were once again not speaking.

      I left early and toured the coast in a rented Maserati.

      Good thing I’d rented that villa, just in case. Just in case was always a sure thing with my dad.

      But now I was home and ready to face Kinsey. Kinsey was no sure thing.


      December was a solid month. We booked enough events that we’d be busy well into January. We even recouped our losses from November when the freak storms ruined so many events. But I was drained and looking forward to a long weekend alone before my sisters flew in for the week. We always spent our birthdays together, no matter what else was going on. Hey, Mom and Dad had celebrated New Year’s Eve the year of our birth toasting our arrivals one after the other, flabbergasted to find they had three new daughters rather than only one. We could do no less to celebrate the day.
      But I was the one dumbfounded this year when I opened my door—four days before the big day—to find my brothers-in-law standing on my porch, faces haggard and eyes red.

      “Thank God you’re okay, Val,” Roger said.

      They both hugged me, pulling me inside at the same time.

      “What’s wrong?” Why were my sisters’ husbands in my house?

      “Janey and Liz have been kidnapped.”


      I spent the last days of summer not at the beach with my friends, but mucking out stalls. Building character, my parents said about my punishment.

      Keeping silent, I allowed my character to build. But the moment I fulfilled my quota of days served, I was gone. And now, two weeks later, I intended to put that character building to the test as I stood in front of a cute bank teller, one hand shading my face, the other on the pistol in my pocket.


      Does this give you some ideas?

  17. First i would like to thank you on this very informative article. I have a few problems with scene breaks. Like can i use scene breaks for flashback scenes.
    For example:
    The man is having an conversation with an woman and he mentions something about his past to her that he has a hard time talking about.
    That’s when i use a scene break and go back to that period in his life. Then i use scene break to go back to his scene with the woman. Showing the aftermath after he done told her the past. Basically the scene break showing his past was indicating him telling her all about it, so when the scene break cut in back to his conversation with her, it showed the aftermath of hm telling her. Can i use scene breaks like that? Sort of how in TV shows when character reflect back on past events, the show cuts away to the scenes of they past and than cuts back showing the aftermath. Could scene breaks be used like that? and my other problem is, arent scene breaks are suppose to leave off sort of on a little cliffhanger.
    For Example: A drug lord is waiting for his shipment to come in but he come to find out that it was set up when he hear siren wails and police cars speeding towards him. Than i cue the scene break and shift to another POV. Than i scene break again and shift back to that scene of the drug lord being put in jail now. Is that how scene breaks suppose to work? If so, could i do the same thing for chapter breaks. Like the end of chapter one would of been when the drug lord realize he was set up and saw police cars. Like can that work or can both work? I just dont understand the difference with scene breaks and chapter breaks.And what is considered scene break.
    Like for instance:
    A have a character have a conversation with someone and than the conversation ends and i skip to the part when the character is somewhere else.
    is that considered scene break ? and do i explain what the character has done between the time the conversation ended with that person to the time of the next scene.

  18. Reginald says:

    Thanks for the article. I’m working on my first manuscript, and I had a few doubts about my transitions. But after reading your insight, I’m please to know that on the micro scale, my transitions appear to be pretty good. However, the same can’t be said about the macro, and i was hoping you could help me. My story features two points of view, and after much thought, I decided to keep my chapters relatively short (2500-3000 words) so that i could switch POV in the middle of long events to do various things with the character building. But that created a problem–several discreet events happen that kick start my novel, but they end up being spread across 4 chapters. Stylistically, I think it’d be a great way to physically show just how busy the night ends up being. But is it ridiculous to spend 4 chapters covering roughly 10 hours of fictional time?

  19. This was super helpful. What I usually do for transition scenes is have the characters fall asleep, faint, be knocked out, or I’ll just put the little * * *.

    • Aliya, there are many ways to transition from one scene to another. Having characters fall asleep, however, is usually not a good way to do it. You risk putting the reader to sleep or at least putting the book down. You want readers excited about what’s going to happen, maybe even anxious. Characters who go to sleep typically don’t incite excitement or anxiety in the reader.

      Could you one time have a character fall asleep? Of course. But there are many other ways to end a scene or chapter and then transition to the next scene.

  20. Paula Millet says:

    Like many other novice writers, I am knee-deep in my first novel. I am telling the story from two different vantage points, alternating between objective and first person point of view with each chapter. I think (and hope) that doing so will provide enough of a contrast between the characters to keep the reader engaged. There have been moments of real triumph in the process, but some second-guessing as well. I do feel that I am getting bogged down in narrating the events in order to keep the plot moving along, especially in an effort to illustrate the passage of time. Is there some hard and fast rule regarding the delivery of background that the reader needs to understand when it is difficult to use dialogue to do so? Is it acceptable to use transitional chapters which primarily tell, rather than show what is happening? I am trying not to paint myself into a literary corner. Your advice is appreciated.

    • Paula,I usually remind writers that they can try anything. It helps to keep in mind why some choices don’t typically work, however. For example, too many chapters that function as transitions would probably create a lot of drag. Would probably actually bring a story to a stop and do so several times.

      The same is true of transitions that go on for too long.

      Transitions usually serve best as short snippets of info introduced between scenes and/or at the top of a chapter. And yet, some stories do feature short chapters that are not or that do not contain true scenes—there’s no sense of where a character is as he’s revealing something about what’s happening in the story or what thoughts have recently come to him, there’s no sense of time passing, and there may not even be any action that plays out on the page. These kinds of passages are often used to show a character’s thoughts or feelings, but they can also include details that would indicate a transition from one place or time to the one that will follow in the next chapter.

      My advice is to keep transitions of this sort as short as possible. While a character ruminates in some nebulous place, the story grinds to a stop. And while such an interlude may be a great device when you need to slow the story down or abruptly change direction, you wouldn’t want to use it too often. Or, as I said, you wouldn’t want it to go on for too long.

      But don’t feel that you always (or ever) have to explain a lot of what happens between scenes. Sometimes what happens truly isn’t important enough to mention, except in passing. Sometimes the reader and other characters only need to know that a character arrived in a new place or did something boring since the last time they were mentioned.

      Knowing how to use transitions includes knowing what’s important for the story as well as what could be left out without damaging the story. Not all the events of a character’s days will influence the important events of a week or month out of his life. Skip ahead to the good stuff, knowing that the reader won’t miss the common events of a character’s days. Just show the character in the next location where something happens; show when the new scene takes place; show how the character got there, if it’s relevant; and either at the top of the scene, in a transition sentence or two, or through dialogue or a character’s thoughts, show anything crucial that the character did since the last time he was seen.

      I suggest you do a little research—pull out some books from your own bookshelves or take a trip to a library and simply read the openings of chapter after chapter. See what the writer did to create the transitions.

      Look at several genres since it’s likely the transitions may be of one kind for something such as mysteries and another for romances. Epics may employ examples of the longer transitions, maybe transitions as a chapter, while romances typically only use a couple of lines before diving back in to the story events.

      Again, you can try anything. Once you’ve got the story together and have gone through a few drafts, see if the story slows too much at your transitions. If you don’t trust your own judgment, ask a critique partner or beta reader. Or simply play around with the transitions, changing them up to see which work best for the rest of the story you’ve created.

      I hope that helps somewhat. Let me know if we need to look at any specifics.

  21. Jane says:

    Hello, I came across this site and wanted to say it has helped. I am not a good writer, but I have a passion for stories I create in my head which I can see through beginning to end. My biggest issue is transitioning. I feel blessed enough to know so much about these characters, their whole lives and memories but have no idea where to put them, for example.

    Exp: Amy couldn’t wait to go rock climbing with her brother John. The last time they went was with their mothers ex fiance, a business man named Sam Hills. He first entered their world for just a fleeting 2 years on a summer night in Tampa. He was tall, dark skinned and sweet.(more about the past)…He would break up with their mother almost three years later, making him the last father figure they ever had.

    I would love an option for long paragraphs like this and if it best to just place a *** or a space before I get into detail on the past of Sam Hills. I think this would greatly help me on getting that flow into my story which is so hard for me to grasp.

    • Jane, unless you’re actually writing a flashback in order to show back story, you typically wouldn’t want to introduce back story with a scene break. If you can get the information to flow with the ongoing events of the story, then the forward momentum won’t have to slow or stop when you give readers details of the past.

      Also, consider what information you actually must share about characters and their pasts. Taking the example you’ve shared—how much of this information is critical to your present story? Will readers ever meet Sam? Do they have to know that he’s a businessman? That he is tall, dark skinned and sweet? Do they even have to know his name?

      Looked at another way, why do readers need to know about him? Are you actually trying to share something about Amy, showing why she is the way she is? If so, consider showing a snippet of the past that shows Sam being sweet to her (if you’re saying he’s sweet and that his sweetness is a memory she cherishes, or that it’s a memory she notes because he was the only sweet one). Or show her memory of rock climbing with him and make the sweetness obvious.

      Rather than just including details about someone, show why those details are remembered by the viewpoint character. In this way you keep the current story from stopping in order to deliver info from the past. Use the past to support the present, but don’t necessarily move to the past unless doing so is crucial. Bring the past forward into the present rather than take the present backward, if that makes sense.

      You can always use dialogue to introduce past information as well. So if another character reminds Amy of Sam, she could mention that and tell us why.

      Does that give you some ideas?

  22. Erica Miles says:

    The symbol of three-dots (or three diamonds or three # signs) to indicate transitions, is called a “fleuron.”

    I was informed of this by my designer team at CreateSpace,’s self-publishing company.

    –Erica Miles

  23. Sunshine says:


    I have a question. I am a stone’s throw from completing my first manuscript. I typed each chapter separately and I am now, after 5 long years, finally ready to put it all together into one file and consider it complete.

    The first half of the story chronicles the intersection of 4 individual’s lives and describes their lives prior to their meeting. Hence, the story moves around in time (introducing each character) and it includes very short (1/2 page) frame narratives at the beginning of each of these chapters, which are being narrated by the protagonist.

    Do you have any advice about how to actually title the ‘introductory’ 1/2 pages? I don’t want to title them (for example): “AMY’S NARRATIVE – LET THERE BE DANCE,” but I want it to stand apart as a frame narrative, so as not to confuse readers.

    Thank you for any help you may provide.

    • Sunshine, consider having related titles, maybe picking up on a word or phrase from each of the sections that follow. Or maybe focus on the element that makes the sections stand apart from one another.

      The Shoe, The Hat, The Ring, The Overcoat

      The Last Cookie, The Last Song, The Last Love, The Last Chance

      Amy’s Dance, Lisa’s Hope, Rachel’s Dream, Matthew’s Letter

      Using the character’s name as part of the title might be especially helpful. But if the frame stories take place at different times or in different places, titles could include a reference to time or place just as easily.

      Is this something like what you had in mind?

      • Sushine says:

        Thank you for the reply Beth!

        These are excellent suggestions, and exactly what I was looking for.

        I deeply appreciate your help!


        The story opens with a discussion between Amy and her lover. This discussion introduces Part 1 of the book (which includes 4 chapters), which goes back in time to chronicle the reasons the antagonist becomes a villain and how he managed to deceive and manipulate others.

        Part 2 introduces Amy’s son and

        • Sunshine says:

          (sorry for the error above. I would have deleted the extra paragraph if I could have).

        • Your options are almost limitless. But do consider using the same kinds of titles, so that they feel/sound similar. That way when readers get to the second one, they’ll immediately understand what kind of section break they’re entering.

          I wish you the best of success with your project.

  24. Kakutheotaku says:

    I’m working on my little short story in my freetime. I begin the story with the main characters being born. Im trying to timeskip 5 years to when they get seperated. The father sends the son away, while keeping his daughter. How would I go about doing this?

    • Bastendorf says:

      Though your comment was from a while ago, and I’m likely too late, I do the same kind of thing, so I’d like to try to help you.

      In the beginning of the book, my character is separated from his parents (his father is the dark lord and gets killed) he’s adopted, and the book takes a full start 8 years later.

      For you, I think a good way to go would be to have a full-line gap after the scene end, then start a new paragraph with no POV and narrate the father sending away the son and keeping his daughter. IE: “Regretfully, he had made up his mind. He banished his son from . But his daughter stayed with him.” I don’t know, I don’t have any context so that’s the best example I can give.

      Anyway, follow that up with another full-line gap, and start a new paragraph. A good signifier of a large stretch of time being skipped is the “* * *” added on its own line. Many top writers use this method.
      For starting the story back up years after and event, one of the absolute best ways to accomplish this is by having the character wake up in bed. It’s how I do it.

      “The knight looked at the ring in his palm a moment, before continuing on to the boy’s new room.


      “Awaken and rise, young prince. Come, you have much to do today,” a voice called as someone nudged a small, inhuman creature.”

      Oh man, does that ever need to be rewritten before this goes to publishing… Either way. The small boy in this case is the dark lord’s son. The scene before doesn’t have the narration that I recommended for you, because I don’t need exposition. I show, through two characters interacting, what’s to become of the child. So the knight takes him to his room as an infant to leave him to be cared for by the maids, and then he wakes up in the self-same room about 8 years later.

      Another way to do it is have it be from someone else’s perspective, and have the paragraph start with that someone else calling out to the character’s name. For instance, the boy in the example above is called Fang. I could have had him doing something, and have the knight walk up on him, and started the paragraph with the knight saying “Fang!” and gone from there.

      Important: If you have a large jump in time from a character who is either a small child, or and infant, you have to have the paragraph after the time jump describe the character’s age a little. and give some time alone with the character who is suddenly much older, now, so readers get a taste of their personality. Alternatively, you can have them interact with another character. Either way, you much keep in mind that a large leap has taken place, and it’s your responsibility to acclimatize readers to the character as if he/she is brand new.
      For example, in my book, Fang goes out to meet the knight from the end of the scene. They interact a little, from the knight’s POV, and then Fang goes back to his room for a little alone time, where I reveal that he doesn’t like being cooped up in the castle. He’d rather be an adventurer, instead of than a prince. This is an important character detail, so I had to introduce it as soon as possible in order to acclimatize readers to Fang’s adventurous nature.

      Then again, the whole book, in my case, is from Fang’s point of view. That may not be the case for you. In the event that neither one of the (I’m assuming they’re children) young characters are the main character, a good idea would be to get the main character to interact with one of the younger characters as soon as possible, that way readers can be shown how much the character has grown. Remember: Show, don’t tell.

      That’s really all I can give you without having more context. I hope I’m not too late for that to be helpful.

  25. Mikey says:

    Hey this is extremely helpful. i’m 18 and i’m working on my second book but this is the first time I write from a characters point of view. i’m having trouble transitioning to a new scene when my character falls asleep… what should I do?

    • Bastendorf says:

      Hey, I’m not the OP, but I’m a writer who has written a novel from character-POV. Hopefully I’m not too late to help out.
      A great way to pull off what you’re trying to do is to put what I call a paragraph gap. Take this snippet from my book for example.

      “After only a few minutes, her purrs faded into soft breathing. She was sound asleep. It was terribly uncomfortable, to have her lying on him that way, but he didn’t want to be rude. He pulled the blanket up over her, and held her atop him. It took some effort, but he finally got himself to drift off to sleep.

      The drake sat up, awakened suddenly by a sound. The others were up already, cleaning up the camp.”

      Context: the female subject is a beast race feline, and the male subject is a beast race reptile, hence the purring and “The drake”. They’re falling asleep together for the for the first time. Context aside, that’s how I usually handle scene transitions via the subject or subjects falling asleep. A full-line gap before the next paragraph. You could also put in a full-line gap, then follow up with “* * *” and another full line gap, if there’s a large enough time jump. (Days, months, years, etc)

      Note: It doesn’t necessarily require you to open the new paragraph with the same character, or even the next morning. You can jump quite a large period of time afterwards, or even to a whole new character if need be. However, a word of advice would be, if you’re going to jump a large slot of time, or change character, a “wind-down” or “padding out” of the scene just before the character falls asleep will help kind of ease the readers into the jump.

      For example, the scene I copied and pasted from my novel has the girl flirting with the male in the scene, and being quite affectionate towards him. There’s no dialogue, just descriptors of them being kind of cute together. The purpose of that silent moment is two-fold. It expresses her feelings for him better than words could have, at that point, and it helps ease readers out of any excitement from the scene just before where they’re being chased by an angry slave owner who is out to kill them. Though I don’t jump very far, you can see why a calm moment was required before the character went to sleep.

      I hope that helps you, and I’m sorry if I’m too late.

    • Mikey, are you talking about what to do when your character wakes up? If so, you can begin almost anywhere and with any event.

      By Friday, Jim was ready to get back to work.

      Two weeks later, Evelyn still hadn’t decided how to tell her mother that she was getting a divorce.

      Nelson woke to the sound of a leaf blower outside his bedroom window.

      While you can use almost any event for a transition, you may not want to show characters falling asleep, especially at the end of a scene. Sleeping characters may encourage readers to close up your book and go to sleep too. Try ending chapters in ways that make readers have to turn the page.

      • Bastendorf says:

        Mind if I butt in? Sorry, I’ve subscribed myself to this thread, so I saw this post and have my own take on characters falling asleep.

        You say characters falling asleep would be generally bad. But my book has the main protagonist falling asleep multiple times. I feel like sharing my method. I usually hold off on having characters fall asleep until I’m ready. Here are the cases I tend to reserve falling asleep for.
        1. A romantic scene. The example I pasted to Mikey from my own novel is just that. A close out to a very strong scene of romance. It shows the young slave girl expressing her feelings to the young prince. He lets her fall asleep laying on him, making the readers wonder if he’s starting to like her back.

        2. An end to a stressful moment. My example above also works as the very end to a gradual wind down of a scene where the characters are running for their lives. Having them slow down, sit around the camp fire, and eventually go to sleep is the perfect way of winding down readers from an otherwise tense moment.

        3. An end to a high energy scene. Not super different from the stressful danger scene example given for number 2.

        4. And end to a very depressing scene. I don’t want to give away anything sad from my own book, so I cobble something together. If a character dies… Hm, let’s go a little less cliche. Let’s say the main character is separated from his family. Giving them a night scene to cry, and grieve, and then closing it with them falling asleep is a great way to end a very sad moment.

        5. A close to a very large change. My book uses this 3 times. The best example is when the main character’s life is rather abruptly turned upside down, and he suddenly has to cope with a lot of things all at once. Feelings of hatred, betrayal, mistrust, abandonment, all drawn to a close at the end of a the scene by him falling asleep. (Though, his friends do keep talking so that’s a pretty bad example, but it’s the only one of the three I can give.)

        6. The close of a chapter. If you’re at the end of a chapter, and it’s night time, and you know you want to end the chapter right after the scene, one great way of doing so is by having the main character fall asleep.

        You mentioned that it might encourage readers to also go to bed. I don’t see that as a strictly bad thing. If it’s at the end of a major scene, or the end of a chapter, there’s no better time to put down a book than that.

        Sorry if I’m annoying, I just want to share differing opinions.

        • Mikey says:

          Hey Beth thanks so much what you said did really help i really appreciate it. And Bastendorf. Everything you said with examples and all is extremely reassurring that i am in the right area for my scenes i am trying to fix. You were not annoying at all in fact it was helpful getting a second p.o.v on the situation. My problem was because of my main character falling asleep waiting for someone or sometimes in the middle of a chapter and i was so confused and frustrated but the two of you really helped me out soo soooo much i’m am forever greatful thank you and best wishes on to your writing careers!

          • Bastendorf says:

            Hey, no problem! Glad I could help out!
            I don’t know if I’m allowed to do this, as I’ve never been to this site before, and a only happened to come across it by chance, but if you need help again, you can stop by my blog and either email me, or ask through my contact page instead of trying to leave a comment on a blog post that’s 5 years old.
            I always try to respond to every single comment and email I receive. So don’t be afraid. I’ve got no life, so I’m usually pretty quick at replying.
            Good luck with your book, and thank you for the well wishes!

          • Phil Huston says:

            That was close. I use the three bears analogy with several characters in the room. Beverly twirled her pencil and thought he was crazy, Bob tried not to laugh, Amy looked at him and thought he was so dreamy in that suit he could have sold ice to Eskimos…sometimes narrative set up seems to me to drive a scene’s focus even if a second or third party reacts. And that does have the potential to read like a script but I write dialogue driven material, not a lot of internal. Characters speak instead of thinking about it. Things like moped, heartbroken, scared ****less. I’m not big on two paragraphs of how a character thinks tree bark feels unless they were drugged and thrown from a car in the woods, or how they feel about the smell of gun oil and leather. I am concerned that the the reader doesn’t get caught up in the emotion of a set up and then get confused by the way a character reacts to a fed ex box in Stacey’s office unless, and I stress unless, the shock or surprise of being jolted out of narrative reverie is intentional.

            I hope that made sense.

          • Bastendorf says:

            Huh, lost the reply button after a few replies deep. But this is a response to Phil.

            Your example is still narrator’s POV. Or rather, could be taken that way, still. It would seem you didn’t really get what I meant. Let me pull up my book and grab a good example.

            He scowled and clenched his fists. Standing up, he pointed his palm at the dummy he’d built, the day before, out of twigs, loose bark, and the clothing he’d been wearing when dropped off on the beach. It had been so easy when he was a child. Heat built up in his fingers and a ball of fire shot from his hand. The aim was off, but it hit the dummy and ignited it. The drake smirked proudly. He launched another fireball, and another. The poor target was now blazing, but he didn’t stop. With every fireball he launched, his aim improved and the more his body remembered his training. He could barely feel the impact on his mana.
            “Woah, easy!” A voice cried. Fang turned to see Tressa rushing up to him. “Settle yourself before you set the whole village alight.” She warned, coming up beside him to watch the wood and cloth target burn. It was rapidly searing away to nothing.
            “I understand that you hurt, but this will not solve your pain, you know.” The girl informed him, the softness of her voice reminding him of his mother. He scoffed, folding his arms.

            In this scene, Fang is all by himself in a clearing in the woods. The perspective is very much dominated by him. You can see some of his thoughts, briefly before his moment alone is interrupted by another character running up to stop him.
            Now, notice how she’s introduced?

            “Woah, easy!” A voice cried.

            A voice. I know exactly who is talking to him in that instance, as the author. She knows who is talking to him in that moment, too, but he doesn’t, and the readers don’t. Though, with more context, they could guess… but that’s not the point. From Fang’s POV, her angle of approach doesn’t lend a whole lot for him to go on, because she’s out of his line of sight, and he’s only just met her, so her voice isn’t one that he’s used to.
            Now, I could easily have just said who it was, “Woah, easy!” Tressa cried. But that would have taken it out of Fang’s perspective, because there’s no way he could have seen it was her without first turning around, and she announces herself vocally before he realizes she’s running up to him. He hears her speak before he sees her.
            My choice in setting this scene up firmly plants it in Fang’s POV, and keeps it there, even when another character comes into the scene. Notice how he reflects on the way she’s speaking to him. It reminds him of his mother. Another glimpse at how he takes what’s happening around him. Now, of course, that note of how it reminds him of his mother could easily be from a narrator’s point of view, but when I’m writing from a character’s perspective, I try to envision myself taking on the role of the character and ask myself “what is the story in the eyes of that character at the current moment?”

            Here’s another good way to help with character perspective: What does the character know? Let’s say it’s night and we’re playing from a character’s perspective, and they see a light in the distance in the dark of the night. As the writer, you know what the light is, but does the character? Is the light coming from a fire? Or is it electric? Is it a flashlight? Or is it the glowing eye of a terrifying, unblinking, cyclops giant gazing into our protagonist’s soul? Let’s take it further. Let’s say the character is searching for something called The Light of Gaia. Naturally, not knowing what the light really is, the character could be forgiven for wondering if the light he was seeing was the The Light of Gaia, even if it turns out to be wrong, and even if we, as authors, already gave the readers a good clue that it’s not.

            Now, if you said “Barry Sue could see the light of a local lighthouse far in the distance, but she didn’t know what it was.” That’s a narrator’s POV, because there’s only one way the nature of the light could be revealed if Barry doesn’t know what it is.

            I hope this reply isn’t too long for you, because I’m about to make it longer. Let’s add another character to the scene I just created. Barry S. doesn’t know what the light is, but she has her travel companion, Chuck N. with her, and he’s familiar with the land. The scene is from Barry’s POV here, and she doesn’t know what the light is. We can use Chuck to tell her that the light is a light house. But that would make the POV kind of ambiguous. It would be a better idea to let Barry wonder, in her own head, what the light is, then after a moment, she can ask Chuck, and we can have him tell her. This puts the POV firmly in Barry’s court, because, like Beth said, we’re omniscient narrators, and if it was from our POV, we could tell readers what she’s seeing. And it’s not from Mr. Norris’ POV, because he knows what the light is, and if it were from his POV, the scene would play out a little differently.
            IE: “Chuck could see the light of the lighthouse shining bright in the dark. But was the lighthouse keeper still home?”

            See, now we’ve added a new element to make sure readers know it’s Chuck’s perspective. That non-dialogue question I threw in there is something I use a lot when trying to show readers that it’s a character’s POV and not a narrator’s.
            Narrators don’t really have to ask questions. They already know. (Unless you’re being a little artistic and are breaking the 4th wall. IE: “Yes he knows the muffin man. But do you know the muffin man?” And now that song is stuck in my head. Fantastic…

            When writing for a character’s perspective, and always be asking yourself “What does he/she know?” If they hear a sound, or see a briefcase, or a dark car with tinted windows driving slowly past them in a bad neighborhood, try to come up with ways for them to react to the scene, even if there are other characters with them. What’s in the car? A gang? Kidnappers? Spies? Alien Lizardmen from planet Cheese? A group of crazed, cannibal clowns? (Note: Those last two scenarios can be worth a laugh from readers, which is also a good thing if you want a little humor.)
            What’s in the briefcase? Money? A bomb? A severed head? A radioactive spider ready to crawl out and give the protagonist super powers? These are all thoughts a character can have to show that something’s from their POV. You don’t need to spend 3 and a half paragraphs describing what anything looks like, to them, or going over scenarios. All it needs is a nod to whose perspective readers are experiencing.
            “James noticed the black car. It was moving suspiciously slow as it drive past them. The windows were tinted, making it impossible to see in. James’ heart began to race. Who, or what, was in the car? He got the brief image of a gang of thugs jumping out of the car, and a spray of bullets tearing him apart an instant later. Panic set in. Whatever was in that car, he wasn’t interested in finding out.” I could have gone with a little more embellishment, there, or even a little less, and it still would have worked just fine. It all depends on how much fear and tension I want to instill in readers. But that’s atmosphere, and an entirely different topic.

            Apologies for the long read, but I wanted to make sure I made it crystal clear what I meant, this time, and the methods I typically use to make it as obvious as possible as to whose perspective dominates the current scene. If you still have any questions or comments regarding my style, do let me know. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m discouraging it.

          • Phil Huston says:

            “you’d likely reserve omniscient observations to only reports of the big-picture as a way to introduce a scene, perhaps when you’ve made a big leap forward in time or switched to a new locale.”

            That’s what I was looking for. I set scenes because left to my own devices I’ll double space and start new dialogue and all of the sudden “who is this and where are they” pops up. I am terrible with all of that Jack and Jill went up the hill and then something happens stuff. The narrator POV is the set decorator, the character POV is reserved for how that scene and the contents of the literary stage are perceived. Dialogue and interaction are story line (and adverb time). Thanks!

          • Bastendorf says:

            It appears I misinterpreted Phil’s question…

            I assumed, based on “But a third party enters and “sees” this scene and responds internally, that is POV? Witness or experience and response, not just who is doing what to set the stage?” That there was some kind of confusion on how to differentiate…. whatever. That’s entirely my bad. Sorry to have wasted your time, there, Phil.

  26. Bastendorf says:

    I’m writing a novel, and I have several scenes where the POV jumps from character to character. I think it works out really well the way I did it. I usually do so in such a way where it’s advertised and built up somewhat. It’s not sudden.
    First rule, all characters must be in the same area. If they’re not within a few feet of each other, POV change is designated with a paragraph end.

    Second rule. Make sure it’s advertised beforehand. Character A will be talking to Character B, then I’ll mention something about Character A. (Looks, behavior, etc) and then that will be from Character B’s perspective, and and give some insight on how they feel about the situation.

    Alternative rule two is: make sure the character whose POV it’s switching to is mentioned by name before the switch is made. IE: Jack stopped at the edge of the trail. John looked out across the plains. He didn’t want to have to leave his home country, but Jack was adamant, and left him no choice.
    My example is rather rough without more context, but I don’t feel like fluffing an impromptu example.

    I have one scene where there are several characters occupying the same general area, and I think at least four of them share the POV, using my rules above.

    Just thought I’d add my two cents.

    • Bastendorf, keeping to your rules is a great way to make something unusual work. When using multiple viewpoint characters in the same scene, always remember the reader. You don’t to confuse the reader, but that’s not the only concern. If you want readers to be able to get close to a character, using multiple viewpoint characters per scene tends to get in the way of that. Flipping between viewpoint characters creates greater narrative distance—good if that’s what you’re going for, but not so good if you want less narrative distance.

      What have beta readers or your critique partner said about your use of multiple viewpoint characters per scene? Do they like what it does for the scene? Do they have any trouble with it?

      Just some thoughts to keep in mind.

      • Bastendorf says:

        Not every scene gets more than one POV. Just the ones that either don’t involve the main character, or ones I feel like other characters’ thoughts need to be known, or on the rare occasion I feel like a scene would be better played out through someone else’s eyes.

        While reading A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony, I found myself rather annoyed by the singular POV. You never get to know how the other characters think, and there are multiple occasions where I would have loved to know. So when I got back to writing my book, I developed a balance between good narrative distance and time with the most important character. You come to love the characters through the POV of the main character, and you come to know and understand them through their own POV.

        In fact, there’s a point where I completely reverse expectations. The main character of the book ends up wearing something that’s extremely uncomfortable and torments him, but I intentionally leave readers in the dark for pages and pages about what it’s like for him to wear it, until he takes it off and his best friend tries it on. Through that alternate point of view, you find out what the main character is going through.

        I ran the whole book through my editor, a college educated professional who edits and writes books for a living. She said it works fine as I have it. She never lies about things. If she didn’t think it would work, she would have told me. Trust me, we spent a year and a half working on it page by page, she would scrutinize the smallest things, and I’d fix them. I completely rewrote the last 3000 words of the book because she had a problem with it (I didn’t like it either, so it’s fine.) So if there was ever a moment it didn’t work, she would have let me know.
        Her overall critique has been to tell me the book is amazing. Praise she says she doesn’t give out lightly. #HumbleBrag :p

  27. phil huston says:

    Stupid question. Scene set up and scene POV. I step on my own toes with that one.

    Stacey was looking out of the window of her office at the flannel gray that enveloped all of the buildings downtown… (etc. etc.) When the dialogue starts it isn’t from anyone’s perspective, it’s two people in a room. But a third party enters and “sees” this scene and responds internally, that is POV? Witness or experience and response, not just who is doing what to set the stage?


    • Bastendorf says:

      I’m probably going to get myself in trouble responding to all these comments, but oh well, I want to try to help out, seeing as OP is a little slow at responding after all these years.

      In my opinion, if it’s just saying what the character notices, and nothing else, it’s still from a narrator’s point of view.
      “Jake saw Rodney throw the ball. Jake saw Steve duck. The ball hit the window, but Rodney hadn’t noticed.” That could all still be from a narrator’s perspective. Even if there’s dialogue.

      In my opinion, it doesn’t become someone’s point of view until we start getting their internal thoughts and experiences. Example: In my novel, the main character thinks the moon is held in the sky my magic. That’s his point of view, because he doesn’t realize the Earth isn’t the center of the universe. He debates, from his perspective, what the nature of the moon is, with his friends, and their POVs come into play a little in the scene, because I allow readers to see how each of the characters think of the moon.

      If I had just written “He looked at the moon and wondered what held it in the sky.” I feel like that would just be a narrator’s (my) point of view. If you want to stress someone’s point of view, I think it’s wise and beneficial to constantly be giving insight into their specific take on what’s going on. If you want to keep it a narrator’s point of view, do as little of that as possible. Redwall is a fantastic example of that. It’s very shallow, and written like a movie. You get no internal thoughts or experiences, from the characters depicted, to the point where it feels like you’re reading the script to a visual piece.

      With that explanation in mind, looking at your example: when the two characters are looking out the window, it’s more of a narrator’s perspective, and when the third character walks in and starts having an internal interaction with what he/she is seeing, then it shifts to that character’s perspective.

      Again, that’s just the way I see things. I hope it helps, all the same.

      • Bastendorf, opinions and suggestions from multiple sources can be quite helpful—you’re encouraged to join discussions here.

        • Bastendorf says:

          Thanks Beth! I may sign up and poke around every so often.
          I’m good at story structure, but I’ll likely avoid writing structure topics, considering common core made sure I didn’t know that the paragraph icon was called the pilcrow until 8 years after a graduated high school, or what it meant when teachers market it on my paper. (I was literally told not to worry about it.) And the embarrassing fact that I still haven’t figured out how to use the semicolon for anything other than making faces on Twitter. 😉 ;_;

          Maybe I’ll learn how to use it on this blog.

    • Phil, every moment in a story has a point of view, so your initial view of the scene is apparently from an omniscient narrator. Every POV except for first person can give way to an omniscient narrator at the beginning of a scene (more usually the beginning of a chapter). Imagine scenes that start with the big picture and then narrow the focus to a couple walking down the street. The viewpoint character couldn’t share that big picture, but an omniscient narrator could. An omniscient narrator could also overhear dialogue.

      If you have a close or deep POV for most of the story, be careful in the way you use the omniscient narrator. If you’ve maintained a close narrative distance for most of the story and then stick in observations from an omniscient narrator only once or twice and only late in the story, readers will wonder who’s sharing that information; they’ll notice the difference. If you set up the device early in the story, readers will grow accustomed to it.

      Once the characters are “thinking” and the reader is treated to information or feelings or thoughts that only the viewpoint character can reveal, you’ve switched from the omniscient to a different POV. (Given that you’re not intending to use the omniscient for the entire story, of course. An omniscient narrator could report what a character was thinking, but if you’re using one of the other POVs, you’d likely reserve omniscient observations to only reports of the big-picture as a way to introduce a scene, perhaps when you’ve made a big leap forward in time or switched to a new locale.)

      Is this what you were getting at?

      • Phil Huston says:

        Oops, stuck this under the wrong one up there. Thanks, Beth!

        “you’d likely reserve omniscient observations to only reports of the big-picture as a way to introduce a scene, perhaps when you’ve made a big leap forward in time or switched to a new locale.”

        That’s what I was looking for. I set scenes because left to my own devices I’ll double space and start new dialogue and all of the sudden “who is this and where are they” pops up. I am terrible with all of that Jack and Jill went up the hill and then something happens stuff. The narrator POV is the set decorator, the character POV is reserved for how that scene and the contents of the literary stage are perceived. Dialogue and interaction are story line (and adverb time). Thanks!

  28. Abby says:

    I have always had trouble with knowing when to change the scene. I don’t know hen I can or where a good place is to stop. Instead I kind of grow bored with the whole scene because I don’t know how to continue it or how to switch to a more interesting scene without confusing my readers.

    • Bastendorf says:

      Changing a scene can depend very heavily on the story’s setting, the nature of the scene being transitioned out of and the one being transitioned into, and the importance of both scenes.
      You want to make sure that if it’s important, that everything that needs to be in that scene gets in there before moving on.

      Really, though, there is no secret. Just wrap up the moment, start a new paragraph, or inter several blank paragraphs, then start the new scene. Like you’d see in a movie or cartoon.
      IE: Walking to a car. End scene. Begin new scene. Pulling up at destination.

      Chapter ends are universal ways of telling readers the scene is over, too. When a reader sees CHAPTER they normally know to expect a new scene.

      Personally, I change unimportant scenes when I grow tired of it or if it’s served it’s purpose. If it’s got exposition or plot relevance to it, I make sure I can’t add any more to the scene before transitioning. Transitions can also be forced by an in-story event. Like gunshots in the middle of town, for example.

      • Abby says:

        I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for your advice, it helped.

        • Bastendorf says:

          You’re very welcome!

          Oh, something I forgot to mention: Ending a scene becomes easier if you write towards a point where a scene can end.

          For example, let’s say it’s a zombie apocalypse and two characters are having an important discussion. I’ve decided I want the scene to end with them leaving the house they’re in. Every so often, I’ll push the idea that they have to leave the house, either by having them hint at it through dialogue. “Dude, we need to get the car! It’s just down the street!” Or having them hint via actions. Like having them pack things up. It could be even more subtle than that, just have then talk about things they need to do that don’t involve the house. Then I’d end the scene by having them walk out the door.
          Maybe one character takes one last look before closing the door, if the house has sentimental value. IE: “He took one last look at the place he grew up in before shutting the door behind him.” End scene.

          This doesn’t always have to be your approach, but it can help both you and readers to do it that way.

  29. Chris says:

    Is a scene transition when, in cinema, one of the characters say emphatically they will not do something and then the very next scene they d
    Are shown doing it?
    EX: teenager: No dad! I will never drive that car in a million years!!! NO NO NO NO NO NO! Next scene: (teenager is driving a car with a scowl while audience lAughs)

    Is this a scene transition? Or is there a specific term for this?

    • Bastendorf says:

      That IS a scene transition.

      Any time a show or movie jumps to a different set, or a different frame of time, that’s a scene transition. They can be as small as jumping to the next room of a house on the same day, or as big as another galaxy hundreds of years in the future. But that last example would also be a setting change.

  30. Chris says:

    Is a scene transition when, in cinema, one of the characters say emphatically they will not do something and then the very next scene they d
    Are shown doing it?
    EX: teenager: No dad! I will never drive that car in a million years!!! NO NO NO NO NO NO! Next scene: (teenager is driving a car with a scowl while audience lAughs)

    Is this a scene transition? Or is there a specific term for this?

  31. Cora Josa says:

    Thank you for these clarifications about scene transitions. I am currently working on a novel with multiple characters (third person point of view). I have a slightly related question, of which I cannot find the answer anywhere els.

    A scene transition is often a great why to show the passing of time, but how do you do this with multiple characters? I have one traveling, for like a few weeks. I feel like I will have a class with the timelines of multiple characters. Do they all have to be on the same timeline, so when I pass a couple of weeks with one character, so should it be with the others? Or are te rules not that strict? I recall that game of thrones manage to pass time on different ways with a boatload of characters, but maybe I am wrong here.

    Anyway, if anyone can help me out here that would be greatly appreciated :)

    • That’s a great question, Cora.

      Scenes featuring different characters don’t have to track moment for moment or day for day with the scenes of other characters. However, you have to make sure that readers know how much time has passed between scenes featuring each viewpoint character and where in the story’s timeline events take place.

      So you could follow one character for a few days, weeks, months and then turn to another character and show what they’d been doing during that same time period. When you spend too long with one character’s timeline, however, and then have to backtrack to pick up a timeline for another character, you risk confusing readers or pulling them out of the story. If readers are enjoying Michael’s story and you build up to an exciting event only to stop and go back to Sam’s story from two months earlier, readers could experience a letdown.

      It’s not that you can’t do such things. It’s just that you probably don’t want to go too long between scenes for different viewpoint characters. And you always want readers to know when a new scene is taking place. So if you’re going backwards in order to pick up the thread of a different character, include time markers at the beginning of the scene.

      Also, you don’t have to include scenes for all viewpoint characters to cover all time periods. So say you’ve included two chapters from the viewpoint of one character, chapters that cover two weeks in your story’s timeline. If you return to the viewpoint of another character, you don’t have to include scenes that show what happened to him during that time; you could instead include a line or two of transition and start from there. And this new character’s now>/i> can be before, at, or after the now for the character whose viewpoint scene you just cut away from.

      I’d say that the most important elements for the reader are knowing the “when” of each scene and what has happened to the viewpoint character since he or she last featured in a scene. The most important considerations for you as the writer are to maintain an accurate timeline and to share time reminders with readers. I definitely recommend that you keep a story calendar—mark days with events pertaining to each character and then make sure that you’ve made the timeline clear in the text.

      As for Game of Thrones, I haven’t yet read the books, but I know that the TV show lacks common time markers. (Funny that you should mention GoT since I’m pondering an article about this very issue.)

      Time markers are easy to include. If the story’s span is fairly short—days or weeks vs. months or years—include references to time of day (breakfast or an afternoon nap) or weekend events. For stories that span a longer period of time, use references to holidays, birthdays, changing seasons, school years and the like. Include references to the length of time it takes to finish a project or to travel—once a reader knows it takes four months to cross from point A to point B, each time someone does it, that reader knows how much time has passed.

      I don’t know if George R.R. Martin didn’t do a good job with his time markers or if the TV folks just skipped some—it is hard to include weather and seasonal markers when it’s always winter or always summer—but as a viewer, I know I’ve been confused with the timing of some events.

      As always, do whatever you can to help the reader without destroying the integrity of the story.

      If I’m not zeroing in on your need, let me know.

  32. Hi, it is very informative post. But i have one question. I’m writing my first novel with first person’s point of view. i need to describe some scenes where first person is not present. or first person just left that place. How can i achieve this? one thing i can do is by changing narrator from first person to another person but i don’t want to do that as it will break link of story with readers mind. Is there any other way to do so?

  33. Bastendorf says:

    Maybe I can help. What I think you’ll need to do is set it up so the character is describing the scene as if he were talking to someone, and in the past-tense.

    Example: “There was a lamp on the table. Its color clashed with theme of the room, but it tied the furniture together nicely, I guess. I always hated that lamp, though. In the middle of the room was an ugly throw rug. I have no idea why it was there, but it made the room feel less empty somehow. I’m not sure why putting a two-dimensional rug on the floor some how felt like it took up three-dimensional space, but it worked. Must be magic.”

    This will hopefully work without clashing. Just remember to add points where the character is still taking the scene from his own perspective, like in my example, so that the move to out-of-body narration isn’t as jarring.

  34. Stephanie says:

    Hi. Thank-you for addressing this topic. This was one of the best articles I found on the subject. I am currently writing a how-to research genealogy book and open the book with a factual story (supported by imagination) regarding a tragic event my grandfather endured as a young boy. It’s told in narrative form and is a series of flashbacks within in a flashback for “suspense” purposes. To captivate the reader, I start by describing the tragic event, utilizing the senses without describing the actual event. I wanted the reader to guess what was happening (gunshot, fire, smoke, etc.). My intent was to reel-in the reader since most of what follows consists of several pages of the actions of small children. I then transition to the fourth day following the murder when the children finally leave the desolate farm for help. I start out with a positive tone, describing their surroundings. Along their walk I flashback to the various things they did during the past four days, only hinting about their ages. (I’m still not sure if I should reveal their ages up front. It might guarantee the readers investment.) Toward the end of that narrative, I describe the morning they woke-up after hiding from the violence of their father’s murder. I flashforward to their walk on the fourth day again to a wagon approaching them. I then flashback to the actual murder and fill-in the blanks of the “chapter opener”. Finally, I flashforward to their walk again and explain what the wagon driver see’s when he approaches the children, which is also when the reader discovers the children were 3 and 4 years old. I’m using headings stating the day of the week as well as numbering the day. For example, “Earlier in the week on Tuesday – The first night” however, some readers are still confused and don’t recognize my suspenseful intent. Do you have suggestions or examples for flashback within flashback headings? Should I use the actual word “Flashback” in the headings? I feel it is important to tell it the way I’ve laid it out. I didn’t start with the morning they wake after the murder following the opener because I wanted the negative images to appear later in the chapter. Should the opener have a specific heading? I also recognize I should be describing their walk in present-day and the rest as past-tense.

  35. Transitions are much like the turn of a page at the end of a scene in a paperback novel. They should wrap the scene up nicely and give the reader a place to sigh happily and set down the book for the night to come back to it tomorrow, or they should leave the reader with a real cliffhanger so they can t resist turning that page.

  36. Jennifer says:

    My transition is a little different, I have the transitions within chapters as my two main characters are in different scenes at this point and doing to things. Trying to transition from my heroine to my hero with ‘Meanwhile, or back at…because my heroine has her moment then my next paragraph and/or page has my hero having his moment. I am not sure if I should go back and forth or if I should make the transitions longer. Merging related paragraphs to their scenes. By goal is to show the reader what both are doing at the same moment. Please help I am almost done with my manuscript, and this part of the novel is crucial to what happens at the end of the book.

    • Bastendorf says:

      Within the same chapter is a little tougher to do than at the end of a chapter. You have a good way of going about it, but you don’t necessarily need to do “meanwhile”. You can have a full-line break, and start the very next like with the new character’s name, or the name of someone they’re with. That’s how I usually change scene and perspective in the middle of a chapter. For example:
      “Fred’s magic had run out. It seemed this was the end for him. Only time would tell.

      Barry could now see the edge of the Forest of Nightmares. The dark trees rose up to the sky before him.”
      Sorry for how rough my example is, but last time I gave examples from my own work, someone accused me of ego and self-promotion (despite the fact that my examples never contained the name of my book or even how/where to get it, or even the name I publish under….)
      That example I gave works well. You can go ahead and go back and forth, it won’t hurt the book at all, believe me. Though, try not to do this more than once or twice in a short time frame, or it can get hard to follow. Try to make sure, before you change scenes, that you can get a few paragraphs out of them, or even a few pages. Flipflopping scenes and perspectives each paragraph can be jarring if poorly handled, and in the worst case scenario, confuse many of your readers, so make sure that there’s a good chunk of material between mid-chapter jumps like the ones you’re talking about, especially if the characters are doing largely different things. (IE: One is fighting for his life, the other is baking bread.)

  37. Jennifer says:

    Thank you. That makes a lot more sense to me now. I was almost was going to refrain it making it my hero one and then my hero. But there is so much going on that it would even confuse me. Lol. Thank you again.

  38. An omniscient narrator can be in different places, times, and persons’ consciousness within a single sentence. I use that possibility shamelessly, and I will not be deterred therefrom by any injunction.

    There can never be such a thing as “too much information” and “too many characters” for me. I accept no limitations in those respects, no matter what.

  39. Bastendorf says:

    This is fine. (I don’t actually work for this site, I’m just a skilled writer who gets updates through email when someone posts to this thread. :p)

    You can have a lot of information and many characters, just make sure you don’t make the same mistake Dragonlance made. Throwing 9-12, important, main characters at readers all in the same chapter, each with their own backstory and motives can be overwhelming. It took far too much time for me to process them all, sort them all out, and remember who was there. It wasn’t until half way through the book that I finally stopped mixing them up, and it took until 3/4ths the book for me to even start caring about any of them, because the book gave me little to no time with each individual one.
    I was expected to take them all in during the same chapter, one after another, and care about them all, and what happens to them. But since the book never slows down, they never managed to get that from me, so when these characters start suffering and dying, I found myself totally detached despite the fact that the book was trying its best to make the scenes emotional.

    I, too, have a lot of characters in the book I’m currently writing. I introduced them slowly, and gave each of them some time in the limelight, alone with the lead character, so that readers could get to know them, and hopefully like them. I try to give every important character a little adventure with the lead character so that I can just focus on specifically THAT character. I did that through breaks from the adventure where the lead character and secondary character of choice could go and do something, or them and an additional character who was there but kind of took a back seat. Filler is never really strictly filler, for me. I use those moments to develop the characters I’ve added.
    See what Dragonlance did was try to involve every character in everything, always, and that left characters feeling shallow, because it was always ‘them as a group’ and not ‘them as a group of individuals’. When characters fought, it felt superficial, ALL of the love and romance scenes felt forced, etc.

    If it doesn’t matter to you if readers care about a character, you’re fine. However, if you throw characters at readers like candy on Halloween, spend no time on them as an individual, and then expect readers to care when these characters are injured, emotionally hurt, or die, you’re not going to get as many readers feeling what you want them to feel if they aren’t invested in the injured, depressed, dead or dying character.

    Have as many as you want, but make sure you develop them individually, separate from the group, if you want/need readers to care.

    Sorry that got so long-winded. I wanted to give a word of advice and warning as both a reader and a writer.

  40. Thank you for this! I discovered I needed some advice on this when I realized I was writing every detail of every moment in the main character’s day.
    By the way, I thought I’d let you know of the typo you’ve got in here. Ctrl+F “beyoond” and you’ll find it :p

  41. Peter says:

    Hi Beth, my story starts with an omniscient pov but quickly drops into a dream scene involving two characters. Should this scene be told from from a first person pov as it is one person dreaming or should it remain omniscient pov. Grateful for some advice. Thanks.

  42. Bastendorf says:

    I’m not Beth, but I’m a writer. A nobody-writer with only one published book, but I’m still qualified to answer your question.

    A transition like that might be a little too jarring, especially if it goes from past-tense, omniscient POV to present-tense, self-referential pronouns. And if it’s only for that one short sequence, it might end up leaving readers scratching their heads going “What’s with the perspective point change all of a sudden?”
    When it comes to writing a book, the best possible move is to avoid doing something that will disrupt a reader’s flow and immersion. (I’m also a game developer, and happen to know that immersion is very important.)

    • Peter says:

      Thanks for the advice. Because of the nature of the novel it does need to be told in omniscient pov. There are 3dream scenes in this so I wanted to make sure I have it right. Omniscient it is then. From what I’ve learned even trying to work in flashbacks or dreams can be tricky thing to do because of the possibility of reader disruption. Thanks again for your help. This has eased my concern. Bye.

  43. Dwane Knott says:

    I appreciate the reminder to keep transitions in mind. The examples are great. I have several breaks in my draft and I have some ideas for making the transitions.