I don't like section breaks, as I've said. I like the narrative to flow unbroken from one thing to the next within a chapter. I also like to write fairly long chapters. As a devotee of three-part structure, more or less, my chapters tend to be built around three scenes, each built from three small acts. I don't jump directly from scene-to-scene; the narrative has to flow smoothly from one to the next in an unbroken line of prose. That means I have to write transitional passages.
Yesterday at lunch I was trying to get from one scene to the next. The physical action of the scene is minimal: a guy sits in his kitchen, eating a sandwich and drinking a beer, thinking. The previous scene was the guy sitting on the patio outside his kitchen, thinking. Yes, I know: action packed! So all the real action is internal, and most of it is thematic. So I'm moving from a scene that's mostly a comic adventure (the scene about the guy on pain pills I wrote about last week) to a scene that's more serious and having to do with ideas from the very first chapter of the book. I'll need to remind the reader of those images and show them from a different angle in this new scene, to give the images a broader meaning. But first I have to get there.
When I'm writing a chapter, I usually scribble down a short list of things I want the chapter to contain. Sometimes those things are actions, sometimes they're symbols, sometimes they're themes. On my best days, I think of all three classes of narrative element and write them all down. These things are usually not directly related to each other. My lists will look like this:
|Davin at the centrifuge|
Where's the disk with the data?
Davin searches boss's desk
Is my sister having an affair?
Everything is dead once you separate it from its mother
I don't necessarily know how I'm going to work all of the symbols/themes in the right-hand column in with the physical actions in the left-hand column. And this is just one scene; usually a chapter of mine will have three scenes, each outlined by a similar vague little list.
Since I just now made up the list above for the sake of this post, I can't tell you how I solved any of those problems because I never did. But I will say that nothing bugs me in quite the same way as does a jarring or clumsy transition. Everything should flow from what came before it, at least in my stories. I can tell you my basic technique for transitioning between elements: I look for something in common in the elements and build a bridge out of it.
That's pretty simple, no? If you are talking about cats and then you want to talk about bananas, you'd do something with, I don't know, maybe the color yellow. Or the idea of something being peeled. Or how old, bruised bananas might look like calico or tortoiseshell cats, maybe. Use that imagination, you know. Given time I could find something actually clever and subtle. The idea is for the newly-introduced narrative elements to seem like they actually are connected to what's already there. The best way to accomplish that is to actually connect them, right?
I wrote about this same thing something like two years ago, but I'm writing about it again because I've just spent the last couple of days staring at the outline for the scene I'm writing and having no idea how I was going to make my way from the scene I'd just written into the scene I wanted to write. I had, for a time, forgotten my own basic technique. So it's always good to remind ourselves about the rudiments of our craft once in a while.