Editing Rant: Transitions

Photo by Lance Asper on Unsplash

I’m sure there are more College-English-Professor proper words for the two transition issues I’m about to Rant on, but for now less call them time-order issue and a skipped-step issue.

Most of the time when I say there is a “transition” problem with a manuscript, it is like skipping a logic step in math proofs – sure you came to the same place, but the reader couldn’t quite follow you.

I made a sandwich and poured myself a big glass of milk. Putting the empty dishes into the sink, I dropped the glass, and it broke.

While obvious that the POV character ate the food between making the food and putting the glasses into the sink, the information is missing and creates a jump – making the reader have to stop and fill in the blank with their own interpretation.

The other transition issue is sometimes the time-order was a little off. The below example is more extreme than what normally appears while I’m editing a manuscript, but you can see how the reader has to stop, back up, put in the new information in the narrative in their head, and then return to the story. Sure you want the reader to engage in the story, but you don’t want to work at the story – only be immersed.

I made a sandwich and poured myself a big glass of milk. Putting the empty dishes into the sink, I dropped the glass, and it broke. While eating, I went through my mail and found a check I had been missing. I drove to the bank after cleaning up the broken glass.

The order things actually happened

  1. Made sandwich
  2. Poured milk
  3. Simultaneous – Ate and went through mail. Found check.
  4. Simultaneous – Put dish in sink, dropped glass, broke.
  5. Cleaned up glass
  6. Drove to bank

For skipping-steps issues, the balance between boring people with every step of the process and giving them enough information that they can fill in the steps – but not work at filling in the steps, has to be created.

For time-order issues, things need to be in the correct order. Yes, when a story is shared aloud, often there are backtracks and foreshadowing. But often the audience gets confused with the backtracks and foreshadowing. A clear timeline without backing up is preferred on the small scale for clarity. A writer can drop in flashbacks and foreshadows when the information is needed to support the story; these are clearly separate from the main storyline and the reader can work it in. It’s the small within-the-same-sentence where the actions are out of order that makes editors rant.

Should it be:

I turned off the computer after finishing editing the manuscript.


After finishing editing the manuscript, I turned off the computer.

Which reads with better clarity? Did one or the other make you pause and rearrange things in your head?