The key to moving naturally from one sentence to the next — which is, of course, the whole point of writing — is good transitions. Such good transitions, in fact, that the reader hardly notices them. They often provide a more conspiratorial feel to a piece of writing: the reader and writer are in it together, if you will.
Perhaps the most common type of transition is one that indicates the amount of time that has passed in a narrative, such as:
One morning, when they’d been waiting for nearly a month.
From this we learn that the scene takes place in the morning and that ‘they’ have been waiting or whatever it was for nearly a month. Not knowing what ‘it’ is builds tension, especially considering the length of the wait.
PUNCTUATION NOTE: Most transition phrases and dependent clauses (that start with when, who, while, as and so on) at the beginning of a sentence need a comma. A rather vague rule is that one- or two-word transitions at the beginning of a sentence can use a comma, or not … your choice, but if it’s over four words, a comma is most likely needed.
When I walked to the car, I realised I’d left the door open. (with comma)
Earlier I had put the bins out. (optional comma)
- At the same time
- For four weeks
- In the evening
- For a month
- In the early hours of the morning
- After lunch
- At night
- The next day
- Later that evening
- When the sun sank
- The following Tuesday
- A week later
- Months passed
- At the appointed time
- The next time they met
- When they arrived home
- As they approached
- In the year 1575 (my father-in-law started his wedding speech like this :S)
- It took a month, but
- On the first sunny day
To avoid the ‘dishwasher syndrome’ — telling every move that is made within a story — you want to be able to change time in a narrative, and this can usually be done in a concise sentence.
Maria kept Anna off school for the day and they went to the sweetshop.
This moves the scene from an ordinary world and shifted it to a sweetshop. Fairly easily done!
They wandered around Venice, slowly taking in the sights and sounds, smells and experiences.
It was a battle to drag her suitcases down the narrow backstairs of the cruise ship, and to squeeze against the walls to let other bewildered newbies pass as she stumbled her way to the berth that would be hers for the coming few months.
- They boarded the plane, train, bus,.
- The room was
- She jogged nervously through the dark streets
- When the train stopped,
- She settled in to
- The chair was located
- Farther along Duke Street
- The car inched through the traffic
- They hid below the stairs of the
- Opposite the church
- When they reached
- In the school hall
Using speech or actions can accelerate or slow the pace of a sentence. For example,
Eileen hurtled from the car and down the front steps to the flat
has a much different effect than
Eileen slouched from the car and checked to make sure all that each of the doors were locked. She helped her neighbour carry the baby in its pram down the front steps then hunted through her pockets for her door key.
Notice how the transition not only signals a leap in time, but also a change in urgency or mood.
Listen, also, to the sounds of the words to identify whether they are slow or quick and use the sounds to your advantage.
- Not daring to glance back, they charged toward the lights (quickens the pace)
- To avoid her, he shuffled through the rooms (slows)
- “Things have changed under the new rules,” he drawled (slows)
- “You idiot. You bloody fool. Do you want to get us killed?” (quickens)
- He pushed to the front of the room (quickens)
- As a consequence, the weight of the news bore down on him (slows)
- “We have hours to wait,” she said (slows)
- With Sunday-morning ease, Susan rolled over under her duvet (slows)
- Peter ducked behind the wall and held his breath (quickens)