Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Drawing the Transitions

In any medium, be it a narrative, sculpture or movie, a story is being told. There is a 'narrative flow,' a pacing that establishes the tone and emotions. If that flow is broken, then so is the narrative. A single flaw and the magic is gone, the audience is lost and so is the piece.

If there is such a weight upon the flow of a piece then it is quite easy to see just how integral transitional elements are to the narrative. In film these elements are called transitions. These are a means of connecting one unrelated scene to another so that it appears to belong in the narrative and keeps the 'narrative flow' moving at the same steady pace. Transitions can be utilized in a number of manners in film, from the cross-disolve or cross-fade that blends the two scenes together to the Hard Cut that ends one scene sharply and launches the next or even the classic 'fade to black' transition. Each transition is selected to suit the two scenes and fit tightly within the determined narrative flow.

The same transitional elements that are used in film are often utilized in narratives as well. When the writer settles upon a genre, a tone and flow for their piece the transitions between the scenes are predetermined by these elements. Selecting the proper transition to match the elements often becomes the largest source of contention.

A Cross-Disolve or Cross-Fade in film is when the first scene slowly begins to fade out while the next scene begins to fade into focus. While there are many variants of this type of transition it is very common in any piece be it film, paint or print. In writing a cross-fade is when the writer begins closing a chapter by adding elements of what will happen in the next scene. Establish the characters involved, the setting and even the start of events that will unfold in the next. A concise example of this cross-fade is a transitory travel element. The characters are in a race to a location, at the end of the chapter the involved characters begin the journey and at the start of the next chapter they arrive at location. This transition should only be used to show that time has passed.

The Hard-Cut or Jump-Cut is far more common in films and narratives where pacing is absolutely paramount to the piece. The jump cut is what is called 'hard transition,' this means that it is the abrupt end  of one scene and the beginning of the next. Most authors utilize this transition in their work because it is the easiest way to show end and beginning of scenes. This is common because this transition does not interfere with pacing and it permits the story to move location to location without wasting time in explanations. An example of this in writing would be when characters are informed of a situation at another location, the scene ends and the next scene begins at that location. Through the negative space between the scenes the audience can infer a transition without the need to slow and follow the explanation.

The 'Fade-to-Black' transition is far less common today than it was in years past. Although in film it is still found in many shows that have a dramatic moment right before a commercial. The fade is very successful for building suspense in both film and narrative. This transition is far more common in third-person narratives than others because of the 'head-hopping' that can occur. Much like shows, in writing the transition is applied to add suspense and then switch scenes. Authors commonly utilize these 'fade-cuts' with title cards. These usually end a scene with a dramatic moment for the character then start the next scene with a title card of sorts that tells location before diving into following a new character.

Transitions in a creative piece are integral to brining an audience under the creator's spell. In writing, it's not just about creating cliffhanger endings at the end of every chapter, it's about the integration between that cliffhanger and the start of the next scene. If you misuse a transition it won't only disrupt the narrative flow but also break the creator's spell. This can prevent a good story from becoming a great story. Transitional elements in any creative piece can actually elevate a piece beyond it's initial conception if they are well implemented. Just look at the transitions in the Brightfalls webisode series.

How well are your transitions integrated? Do you think of the transitions or just the flow?

4 comments:

Michele Shaw said...

Have you been listening over my shoulder? LOL I often read back through what I've typed and say, "Ooh, bit of a bumpy transition...need to smooth that out!" I don't like jerky movement, especially when I feel like a scene didn't really end, but the author just quit. A lot of great info here, as always.

PW.Creighton said...

Michele, thanks for the comment. I guess we're on the same wavelength. I always find that everyone is so focused on the hook of each chapter or even just the beginning of a story that they fail to see how the scenes end and move to the next. This is one of the strongest elements for pacing. Excellent way of putting it too… bumpy.

Jill Kemerer said...

Transitions are a big deal. Without a few key details, the reader gets lost and thrown out of the story. I always check to make sure I've added when the scene is taking place, whose point of view it's in, where it's located, and the goal very early in the transition.

PW.Creighton said...

Jill, very good 'check list' of sorts. I prefer to think of transitions in the visual sense. Did I use a 'jump cut' or a cross dissolve? Why? Am I using the proper transition for the piece at that time? I think very visually and as I've been trained I try and bring the other art techniques into writing. Thank you for the comment!

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