Transitions are used to make the writing flow more smoothly, connecting one piece of information to the next without any surprises or halting moments. Without connections or transitions, the reader might find themselves confused about what’s happening, who is speaking, and where in the story they are. This is especially important in novels where there is more than one storyline going on, and the author is using subplots.
Definition of Transition
Transitions are the connections an author creates between ideas, phrases, paragraphs, and even entire books. They help the writer convey information as clearly as possible, connecting one idea, scene, or thought to the next. There are specific transitional words writers can use to inform their readers that they’re changing ideas or shifting to a new place in the novel. (These are listed below.) There are a few common places where writers place transitions, but there is no specific formula a writer can follow to ensure their writing has successful transitions.
Transition Words and Phrases
Below are a few transition words and phrases one might use in their own writing and which are commonly used in all types of writing:
- That being said
- In fact
- Coupled with
- Not to mention
- In the same fashion
- By the same token
- In addition to
- But also
- Not only
Where are Transitions Located?
When writing, authors place transition words anywhere they need to connect ideas or ensure the reader knows they are transitioning. Usually, this means that they appear within and between paragraphs as well as between sections. They can also appear between significant sentences and even within some longer sentences.
Sometimes, entire paragraphs are transitional in nature. These paragraphs, especially in longer writing pieces, prepare the reader to move to a new topic. This could feature in formal, academic writing or in a fiction novel. For example, a writer might insert a transitional paragraph before their conclusion in an academic essay or before switching perspectives in a novel.
Writers also use transitional sentences in between paragraphs. These are especially important in formal writing when quotes are used or any time the writer wants to smoothly connect two ideas. Within paragraphs, readers can find them between and within sentences.
Examples of Transitions in Literature
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
In Márquez’s best-known novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, readers can find a wonderful example of a transition in the first lines. This novel has some of the most famous opening lines in all of modern literature. They read:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.
The narrator opens with the transitional phrase, “Many years later.” This immediately informs the reader that after the central plot (which comes in the following pages) Colonel Aureliano Buendía is going to face a firing squad. This opening suggests the fragmented and sometimes baffling way in which the narrative is told. There is a second transitional phrase at the beginning of the second line, “At that time.” This denotes time once more, signifying a specific period.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
In this well-loved novel, Brontë provides readers with many examples of transitional phrases. They’re incredibly important in this novel as she shifts through different perspectives and moves around in time. The frame narrative requires consistent use of transitions. Consider these lines from Chapter VII in which Nelly is describing Heathcliff’s appearance:
Therefore, not to mention his clothes, which had seen three months’ service in mire and dust, and his thick uncombed hair, the surface of his face and hands was dismally beclouded. He might well skulk behind the settle, on beholding such a bright, graceful damsel enter the house, instead of a rough-headed counterpart of himself, as he expected.
In the first sentence, “Therefore” and “not to mention” are both used. This is far from the only example, only a few pages later, readers can find this sentence, showing again how “therefore” can be used:
We knew she was really better, and, therefore, decided that long confinement to a single place produced much of this despondency, and it might be partially removed by a change of scene.
Using “therefore” in these lines, the narrator is signaling a change in opinion. They knew Cathy was better and therefore made a change in how they treated her.
Read Emily Brontë’s poetry.
Why Do Writers Use Transitions?
Writers use transitions when they want to move the reader to a new idea, place, or section of their written work. They’re necessary when something is about to change. In novels, this could be the setting, narrative perspective, etc. In academic writing that’s more formal, transitions are mostly going to occur between ideas and sections. For instance, between the thesis and the first body paragraph of a paper. Below are a few simplified reasons why a writer would use a transition:
- To contrast between ideas. For example, “However.”
- To concede a point. For example, “At any rate.”
- To compare. For example, “Similarly.”
- To show the passage of time. For example, “At last.”
- To emphasize something. For example, “Above all.”
- To bring attention to something. For example, “Especially.”
- To illustrate a point with examples. “For instance.”
- To summarize. For example, “Therefore.”
- To suggest something. “For this purpose.”
Transition refers to the process of changing from one state to another.
It is the way a writer connects ideas, paragraphs, and entire sections of literature. It uses specific transitional words and phrases.
Transitions are important because they allow the reader to move smoothly through the written work. Without them, the writing (no matter the genre) would be scattered and hard to follow.
A transitional term is a phrase or word that’s used to denote a change in a text. It could mark the passage of time, present a contrast, concede a point, summarize, and more.
There are many types of transitions. Five common ones are 1. Adding information 2. Comparing ideas 3. Noting the passage of time 4. Describing consequences 5. Emphasizing an idea or action.
Related Literary Terms
- Cliffhanger: a narrative device that’s used to end a story abruptly before an action or segment of the plot is concluded.
- Coherence: the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
- Digression: occurs when the writer interrupts the main plotline to contribute additional details.
- Pacing: refers to the pace at which a story unfolds or how fast or slow the plot elements come together.
- Plot: a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
- Watch: Writing Paragraph Transitions
- Listen: Transition Words in Reading and Writing
- Listen: Transitional Words and Phrases