Transitions are key to maintaining story flow

The next item on the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist has to do with continuity:

Transitions clearly show how much time has elapsed and show how events relate to each other.

At the start of each scene, and especially at the start of chapters, give the reader some clues to where they are and how much time has elapsed. You don’t have to give exact dates unless you are writing historical fiction and they are important. You can use phrases like “Three days later, they arrived in the capital city.” Or, “The ship reached America shortly after midsummer.”

time transition
Illustration by magicmarie •

Subtler cues can work even better. If chapter eleven is set in the summer, and you open chapter twelve with red and brown leaves falling from the trees, the reader will know a few months have gone by. If years have gone by, you’ll need some more obvious signal, like a toddler in chapter eleven who’s ready for kindergarten in chapter twelve.

Often exact time frames are not necessary to your story, and leaving yourself some margin can be helpful. Exactly how long would it take to travel by horse from Savannah to Boston in 1855? Given the state of roads at the time, it could vary widely depending on the weather and other factors. If you’re not detailing the whole trip, it may not matter. You could just show the character arriving in Boston and saying something like, “That trip was so long I thought it would never end.”

You don’t have to be precise, as long as you give the reader enough to be grounded in the correct time and place each time there’s a shift.

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