Writing Fiction? What You Need To Know About Creating a Story Theme and Believable Scene Transitions

Scene Transitions and Story Themes

What do you think is the story theme for this picture?

It’s wonderful that you have these characters talking in your head about some problem that only you, the author, can provide solutions for, but before you get too far into the throes of writing that manuscript, have you determined the theme for your story?

What is a Story Theme and Why Is It Important?

If you’ve taken any writing courses, your instructor probably talked about the story problem. What’s the major problem in the story that your main character has to overcome before the book reaches its final conclusion? Sound familiar? Maybe not.

A story theme is not a story problem. Let me explain. A story theme is the purpose and message that you want your readers to understand. This is accomplished by the way you set up your plot and the types of characters you create to tell the story. As a writer, you might have started this novel’s writing journey by coming up with an idea, and the more you thought about that idea, you began to create the foundation for your story. Basically, a story’s theme is defined by what you show your reader as an observation or philosophy of the human condition. That is the story’s theme.

The Wizard of Oz and the Story Theme

Have you ever seen the movie, The Wizard of Oz, or read the book? It is driven by the story’s problem that the author presents as the theme. Dorothy’s problem is that she’s in the Land of Oz, and she wants to get home, but she doesn’t know what to do to get back home. After she begins her adventure and goes through lots of trials, what she learns about herself is that she really doesn’t want to run away from the home where she grew up with such a loving family. That’s when the story’s theme becomes apparent when she finally decides “There’s no place like home.”

What are Scene Transitions, and Why Must They Be Believable?

First, let’s define a scene transition. A scene transition takes the reader from a scene in one specific location and time into another scene, another location, and possibly a significant passage of time. Scene transitions also can and usually do involve emotional changes for the main character, the villain, or any supporting characters.

The best way to think about scene transitions is to link the old with the new. To help you understand this better, think about one of your favorite movies. If you can play it back in your mind, you will note when one scene ends and another one begins. For example, if a loud pounding noise of a wrecking ball in a building’s demolition transitions from that scene to the crashing of symbols in an orchestra’s soundtrack where the heroine is on stage, you have thus experienced a believable scene transition.

You can transition from one scene to another through sound, or through a segue of actions between or among various characters. You can easily conjure up hundreds of ways for smooth scene transitions. Achieving the world of believability for your reader demands that the scene transitions appear natural, sequential, emotional, and make the reader want to continue to turn the pages to find out what happens next.

As an Editor, these are the most typical errors I see when authors create scene transitions

The goal of every editing and proofreading company that provides services to writers is to help them along the journey of writing successful materials, and to save the writer from years of agonizing rejections. I’ll give you my secret sauce after presenting you with two examples: the good and the not-so-good scene transition.

Example of a not-so-good scene transition

Sarah sat on the top step of the stairway that led to her brownstone apartment in Manhattan. She was bent over, crying, as the torrential rain and wind blew her hair sideways.

“How could he do that to me?” she bemoaned and cried even louder.

Three weeks later, Sarah was serving donuts to a silver-haired woman who stared silently at the shimmering coffee in her beige mug cradled in her shaking hands.

STOP! Hopefully, even though you don’t know what this story is about, you should be able to quickly see that the transition between these two scenes was not only unnatural and not believable, but as a reader, it would make me wonder if pages of the manuscript had been tossed in the shredder. Why? The transition created confusion in my mind as to what was happening in the story. I truly wanted to know what happened to our girl who was crying. Would you agree?

An example of a sweet and lovely scene transition that is (in my opinion) totally believable

Miranda had created her online Etsy store, which advertised all her knitted fingerless gloves in the Seahawks colors. She was hopeful that with all the photos, descriptions, and pricing research she had done that a lot of people would buy her handmade gloves.

She truly wanted to buy her son a Christmas gift, and selling homemade items online was her only hope for generating an income after their home had burned to the ground last month. It took Miranda a long time to get to sleep that night, but she prayed for a miracle…not for herself, but for her son.

Miranda stirred nervously in bed as the sun beamed its rays onto her face in the early morning hours. Her first thought was to run to her laptop in the kitchen to see if she had sold at least one pair of her knitted gloves.

So? What do you think after reading both examples? Can you see the correct way to handle a scene transition?

My Secret Sauce for Creating Believable Scene Transitions

Here’s that secret sauce I promised to reveal earlier. The best way to wow your readers and create a bestselling novel is to play the scenes like a movie in your head. If that thought troubles you, then think of your fiction writing, scene-by-scene, as if you were watching a play, in real life, on stage.

If a specific number of characters were on stage for one scene, would the next scene still have several characters standing in the same place as when the previous scene ended? Of course, the answer is no. Most likely, the lights would be dimmed, the curtain would close, the sets would be changed, and new actors would be standing in place when the lights came back on and the curtain rose.

Do you see where these examples can be used in your fiction writing?

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