B&N Week 109: Transitions

| January 22, 2013

BoltsNutsFeatured- transitions

We’ve got yet another Tuesday upon us! Just like McDonald’s, I’m lovin’ it! [Speaking of McDonalds makes me hungry for their oatmeal.]

This week, I wanted to talk about transitions. It isn’t going to be long-winded, I promise. There are only a few things to remember here, and if you use these tips judiciously, you’ll be pretty happy for a long time.

Transitions are important. What they do is lead the reader from one scene to another. Done correctly, this should be almost seamless. This seamlessness is important to the enjoyment of the story.

The first thing you have to keep in mind when talking about transitions doesn’t have to do with the transition at all. It has to do with the scene you’re currently in. This is important because the scene is the smallest part of the story. [It isn’t the page and it isn’t the panel a scene is like a mini-story, having a beginning middle, and end. Even if that end is a cliffhanger designed to get you to turn the page, it’s still an end.]

I talked about ebbs and flows of storytelling last week, but then I was talking about the entire story. Well, there is an ebb and flow when it comes to each particular scene, too.   That ebb and flow has to be paid attention to at the scene level, too. If you want the audience to follow along with you, you have to have to treat your entire story as a series of waves crashing against the shore. When the wave is out to sea, you don’t really see it. As it comes closer, it starts to build and is now visible, and it ends with a crash against the shoreline. That’s your story, over and over and over again.

Now, one of the easiest ways of getting from one scene to another is the voiceover caption at the end of a scene. It’ll look like this:

Panel 6: Gavin and Gayle are holding each other close, kissing passionately.

Caption (Laura): Gayle would never cheat on me, especially with a man.


See what was done there? Let’s take a look at some of the assumptions that were made in order to get us here.

The first assumption is that this is the end of a scene. For the sake of ease, we’ll call it P5. Now, since it’s an odd-numbered page, it has to fall on the right-hand side of the book. [We’ll get into why that is in a little bit.] The next assumption is that I’ve done my job correctly and that everyone knows who Gavin and Gayle are, and that I’ve built up enough drama/interest so that when the caption comes, it will have the emotional response I’m looking for within the reader. They’ll know it’s the end of the scene, and not only want to know what happens next, they’ll also want to know whom Laura is talking to, and have that I know something you don’t know mentality about what they’re going to read. [You can hide certain things from the reader, you can hide certain things from characters in the story, but you cannot hide the same exact thing from both. That’s bad storytelling.]

Why did I place this transition on an odd-numbered page? Because all odd-numbered pages are page-turns. What you’re getting is a psychological break as you go from one scene to the next when you turn that page. You’re using the natural break within the medium in order to tell the story.

Comics is the only medium that allows you to use the natural breaks within the medium to tell the story. When used correctly, it allows you to tell the story at your own pace, and to do it organically. No other medium is like this. Television is nothing but film broken up into chunks. Those breaks are artificial, put in place for advertising purposes. Film itself can tell a story in a single sitting. Novels have natural breaks, but because of all the different physical sizes of books themselves, it is exceedingly difficult to tell a story using the natural breaks of the page-turn. I would say it is nigh-impossible.

No other medium allows you to the natural breaks within the medium itself to help in the telling of the story. Only comics.

Use the natural break within the medium for your transitions. It is psychologically that much more effective.

So, what I did with the example above is a combo-move. I have the voice-over caption placed at the page turn. Could I have left it without the voice-over? Yes, but it wouldn’t have been as effective. I’d have to do something else in order to make sure that the reader knows that the scene is ended. I might have had to do some trickery, such as moving in to an extreme close-up of a body part, or have them beginning to lay down and have a black panel to end it, or have them beginning to lay down and leave the camera directly where it is, showing what they’re about to do, or

There are tons of variations that can be done with the simple ending of a scene in order to effect a transition, as you can see. Like I said, the voice-over caption is the easiest.

There are different types of transitions, as well. I’ve spent most of the time here speaking about scene-to-scene transitions, but there are five more to be accounted for. To fall back on Scott McCloud for a little bit, you have subject-to-subject, where you have different subjects within the same scene. This is your typical panel-to-panel transition within the scene. It is almost unconscious, because this is the base of everything that we do.

You have the non-sequitur, where there is no obvious connection between the images in consecutive panels. You’re hardly ever going to see this in comics.

There is action-to-action, which is where the same subject is shown in a sequence of different yet connected actions. This is different from moment-to-moment transitions in that there is a larger lapse of time between panels.

Moment-to-moment transitions are consecutive panels showing the same subject in a sequence of different moments with a small lapse of time between panels.

Then there is aspect-to-aspect, where you have panels showing different elements of concept, mood, or place. The evocation of feelings or thoughts is more important here, and the time and space between each panel can be wildly different.

As you can see, the other five transitions all take place within the scene itself. Most of the time, you’re going to use subject-to-subject and moment-to-moment. The more adventurous of you will try action-to-action and aspect-to-aspect. The really adventurous will try the non-sequitur. All of you are going to do scene-to-scene. You can’t not do it.

Go out and study. Study your medium, so that you can learn how to tell a story effectively within it. This is the truly hard part, because everyone has a story to tell. The difficulty is in telling it effectively. And you won’t know until you try. Intellect is not enough. You have to put it into practice. Intellectually, I know how to drive a stick-shift. Press the clutch, shift the gear, release the clutch, press the gas. If you want to stop, press the clutch to slow down, and the clutch and brake if you really want to stop. I know that intellectually and from watching my father do it as a kid. In practice? I have zero experience.

So do the work. Try it. Make a conscious effort to try the different transitions in an effective piece of storytelling. The more you do and try, the easier it will become over time, and the more tools you’ll have in your toolbox.

That’s your homework for this week. Six different types of transitions. You can post one of them here.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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