Oftentimes, manuscripts are cluttered with transition words, like “then”. These tend to just be filler. Here are better ways of writing transition words and streamlining your manuscript. Some writers won’t be affected by this at all, but others may recognize themselves in this article.
Transition Words are Filler
For fun, here’s a list of transition words. A lot of these words and phrases are more at home in an essay. Writers of fiction will especially want to pay attention to the Time/Chronology/Sequence list.
Some writers use these words a lot. “Then” and “Suddenly” and “Just as” hang out and take up space at the front of many paragraphs. Some writers absolutely don’t have this issue, but others can’t help but be conscious of the passage of time. They use transition words and phrases to introduce action that’s about to happen.
Here’s the thing. Instead of introducing that action is coming, then describing the action–take a shortcut. Simply describe the action. For the most part, transitional words and phrases are filler.
Action is, by and large, written in chronological order. So words like “Then” to link descriptions aren’t necessary. Your reader will know that one event follows the other. If your manuscript suffers from inflated word count (50k words plus in middle grade, 90k words plus in young adult– read more about how long a book should be), you may want to really drill down to the sentence level. Are you writing transition words too often and stating the obvious?
Try trimming them and you might see that your writing takes on a new and refreshing tightness and simplicity.
A Few Exceptions That Require Writing Transition Words
There are two notable exceptions to my advice. In picture books, writing transition words really do keep things moving. Picture book action tends to be very quick–writers are expected to do a lot in about 700 words. Sometimes, time and action move quickly. Actions are described in a few sentences. So transition words help things flow, and they help keep younger readers engaged.
In work for older readers, there are instances where you will want to use compressed narration, or when you’re hopping around in time. If you are making a transition between scenes and need to splice your timeline together, transitions are totally fine.
They’re also a good idea if you’re going into flashback (tips on writing flashbacks here) or moving around in any order other than chronological. Remember, if you take a time leap, you will always want to ground your narrative relative to the scene you just departed.
Writing transition words help keep your reader’s feet on the ground, so they know exactly when and where something is happening in relation to a previous passage.
Streamline Your Writing
The big takeaway is that writing works best when it is tight and functional. Flourishes are, of course, allowed. Sometimes extras help define your voice and identity as a writer. But a lot of filler can creep into writing and make it dull and heavy. Are transitional words one of the things you could trim from your work?
Voice is a crucial component of publishable writing. Hire me as your developmental editor and we can take your work to the next level together.
5 Replies to “Writing Transition Words: What to Avoid”
Then is a demon that appears with great frequency and regularity in my first drafts. I think it loves me, so it has attached itself to my brain. Thank heaven for Find and Delete. They’re my good writing buddies.
This is such good advice. I shall go through my writing for children again. Action is certainly better than extra words.
Hi Janey, Nice to see you here. How are are you? I love this blog.
Thanks for the commendation Victor.
I love this article encouraging people to avoid transitions and the article is filled with transitions!!! I found it so light and humorous, not dull one bit!!!