Building Bridges In Writing
How many bridges do you cross in an average day? If the bridges were destroyed, how would your route to work change? Could you even drive to work? Bridges are an important part of our world. But they are seldom noticed, unless they collapse.
A transition is a bridge that moves the reader from one place, time, or subject to the next. In Beyond Style, Mastering the Finer Points of Writing, Gary Provost, writes, “A good transition is short, direct, and almost invisible.”
Bridges provide the shortest, most direct route from here to there. They are (in most cases) almost invisible. Bridges are unobtrusive. They allow the traffic to flow over them, while the water flows beneath them. So, good transitions move the readers quickly and smoothly from one point to another without interrupting the flow.
In nonfiction, a transition connects thoughts. Often one word or short phrase is all that is needed to bridge the gap.
Here are a few transitional words:
therefore, consequently, however, meanwhile, finally, first, still, later, yet, then, next, but
Another way to make smooth transition is to repeat key words or phrases. This example is from Teaching to Change Lives by Dr. Howard Hendricks. The transitional words are in bold italics.
“As a teacher you can, of course, teach without character, without compassion, without content. But think with me what that does to the learner.
“For the teacher’s character is what produces the learner’s confidence. When I see the quality of your life, I know you have something significant as a teacher to contribute to me. I can trust you. I know you wouldn’t lie to me.
“This trust factor, this confidence in you, is the greatest commodity you have going for you in communication. Never do anything to shred it. It’s the hardest thing to build back.”
In fiction, transitions move the reader from character to character, from place to place, or from present to future (or past). The writer can lead into an action in one paragraph and begin describing it in the next.
As she drove into the parking garage, Marsha took a deep breath. What would she find on the third floor?
Ten minutes later, she knocked on the door of room 316. When a familiar, masculine voice replied, “Yes?” Marsha smiled for the first time that day.
The writer could have described how and where Marsha parked the car, how long she had to wait for the elevator, the nurse who directed her to room 316, but why? Such details should be told only if they are important to the story. Otherwise, they merely slow the flow.
Again quoting Gary Provost in Beyond Style, Mastering the Finer Points of Writing: “A story is not everything that happened. It’s every important thing that happened. An article is not everything that’s true. It’s every important thing that’s true.”
Another way to move from scene to scene smoothly is to use the “enter” key. The use of four spaces rather than the usual double space is called “the double-jump.” To maintain reader interest, though, the writer must give a clue to the coming action. Debbie Macomber uses this technique skillfully in The Christmas Basket, as she moves the reader from scene to scene and character to character.
In a drama, music, lighting, sound effects, and even periods of silence bridge the gaps.
How can you tell if your transitions are smooth? Read your writing aloud. Does it flow smoothly or is it jerky? Is the thinking logical? Are the transitions short, direct, and almost invisible? If the readers are not distracted by the transitions, you can call yourself “a skilled bridge builder.”
Recommended reading for more information on transitions:
Polking, Kirk, Writing A to Z, The terms, procedures, and facts of the writing business defined, explained, and put within reach. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990.
Provost, Gary, Beyond Style, Mastering the Finer Points of Writing. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1998.
Leland, Christopher T., The Creative Writer’s Style Guide. Cincinnati: Story Press, 2002.
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