What Is a Transition?

A transition is the movement from one subject to another. Most students are familiar with transitions because they have difficulty writing them in formal essays and come to associate transitions with past and present English assignments.

However, transitions are everywhere — in art, nature, film, and creative writing. Leaves turn color, signaling the transition from summer to fall. Children learn to ride bicycles and drive cars, signaling the transition from toddler to child and child to adult. A turn of phrase indicates the transition of a speech from introduction to main topic. A simple gesture, such as looking up from a computer screen, signals the transition from hearing to active listening.

How Do You Identify Transition in Writing?

Literary transitions can occur in a variety of different ways. They can be formal:

  • In plays, scene breaks indicate a transition from one place to another, while the break between acts may indicate a passage of time.
  • Novels use chapters, section headings, and numbered parts to create formal transitions.
  • Films cut away to black, fade in, and change location.

But transitions can also be more subtle. Literature grounds transition in imagery — geese flying overhead, for instance — perception, and symbolism. Literary transitions involve both the passage of time and the gradual change in a character’s perception of the world as they develop.

Examples of Transition

Transition Example 1. Swirling newspapers, rapidly moving clock hands, and pages ripped off a calendar were all transitional devices used in mid-twentieth-century film to indicate the passage of time.

Transition Example 2. In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Prince Prospero orders a suite of differently colored rooms that make the symbolic transition from birth to death.

Transition Example 3. During the first season of the television series, The Sopranos, makeup alters the appearance of mob boss Jackie Aprile Sr. in order to mark the rapid progression of his cancer and the transition of the crime family from order to instability.

Transition Example 4. Franz Kafka’s famous story, The Metamorphosis, demonstrates transition both formally, with section headings, and through the slow perceptual changes that come about as Gregor Samson transforms into an insect.

Transition Example 5. In Bobbie Ann Mason’s short story, “Shiloh,” Norma Jean’s transition from dependence to independence is marked by changes in the meals she cooks, her growing physical fitness, and the essays she writes for a community college class.


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