Hey, Writerly Women. I have to say again how impressed I am with AMANDA'S work. Not to mention her courage in putting it out there for us to examine. We should all be so brave, yes? So let's take a look at her transitioning prowess.
The first paragraph is pretty dang perfect as a narrative bridge:
The workhouse was eerily quiet, completely abandoned except for the three of us. We followed him down the three levels, the iron stairs intact but precariously unstable as we stepped over debris. Everything was shattered, broken beyond hopes of repair, plaster and stone crumbling little by little. Whatever the Mountain did next would surely be the end of this building forever. This place had been my home for almost my entire life, but I wouldn’t miss an inch of it. It would be better off in ruins.
It leads us from where we were before to where the action is going to pick up again. I know where we are and what we're up against.
The next paragraph is NOT a transition and while it also is well-written -- I can totally see it, and as I read I'm cringing because I don't want to step on anything sharp -- if I were Mandy I would break it down into more active pieces with some dialogue. We're not on a bridge here, we're on the other side, ready for action.
So instead of:
My feet stepped into water as we reached the final level, the unrecognizable room flooded, water and dust mixing into mud. We waded through it, our bare feet stinging as we stepped on broken things that we couldn’t see to avoid beneath the murky water.
Mandy, you might want to go with something like:
When we reached the final level, the room was flooded. Unrecognizable. I stepped right into the water and dust that mixed into mud.
"Do we go in?" SOMEBODY whispered.
"I don't think we have a choice," I said.
As soon as I took the first step, though, I wished we did have one. My bare feet stung as I stepped on broken things I couldn't see to avoid under the murky water. From the way SOMEBODY yelped, I knew she was experiencing the same thing.
Now, getting back to the whole narrative bridge thing ... this is a paragraph (or more if they're short) that takes us from the action of one scene to the action of the next. We don’t always want to (nor should we!) account for every move our protagonist makes, but at the same time we don’t want the reader to wonder where the Sam Hill he/she is when suddenly there’s a whole new setting and group of characters.
Here's an example of an effective narrative bridge:
The next three days were an exercise in trying not to chew someone’s face off. Everything Todd said turned her nerves to barbed wire. The kids clearly sensed her tension and ramped up their own, the bickering between Caroline and Buddy reaching Trump/Clinton proportions. And her mother was, well, her mother. Ellie was actually considering calling Rock Doc for some Valium when the email finally came.
You don't ALWAYS need one. Sometimes it's obvious that you've moved from one thing to the next. A narrative bridge DOES work well when you’re moving from one scene to another AND (1) some considerable time has passed, (2) the place has changed, and/or (3) something has occurred that needs to be mentioned but doesn’t need an actual scene of its own.
When you do write a narrative bridge, here's what to include:
- An indication of where we are
- An indication of how much time has passed
- An indication of who’s there and what they’re doing
- A mention of anything that’s happened in the gap that’s not just the usual teeth-brushing, dinner-cooking, treadmill-running kind of thing
It should sound:
- like the same voice you use in the rest of the novel
- which is the voice of the protagonist even if you’re using the third person
- and NOT like you the author.
For instance --
NO: Michael had a hard time waiting for Cheryl to call him. Two weeks passed before she did. “Hello?” he said anxiously into his cell phone.
YES: Two weeks passed before Michael heard from Cheryl again. Two long. Tortuous. Weeks. He didn’t pass them sitting with his cell phone in his hand, waiting for the special ring tone he’d set up for her. That would have been really pathetic. It just so happened that when the call came through, his mobile was on his lap. Pure coincidence.
Just remember that you’re telling a story, and you want the telling to be clear and delicious and smooth. One way to check your narrative bridges is to have someone read them who hasn’t read the previous scene and ask your reader to tell you where and when the new scene is happening.
This came to me when I was vacuuming this morning (the only reason I do mindless household tasks is because that's when ideas come to me; it has nothing to do with a penchant for cleanliness) ... where was I? Oh, yeah, I was vacuuming and I realized that when we write, transitions don't just happen. We really have to shape them carefully or nobody knows what's happening. It's the same when we're in life transitions like the ones we talked about Friday, and like the one LILY wrote about in her comment. We can't just wait for the change to happen, because it probably won't and then we end up with what Thoreau called "lives of quiet desperation." We have to shape them too -- and that's what this month of August is about for us as a writerly community.
So will you do any or all of these things?
- If you want us to look at a narrative bridge, just email it to me and we'll give it a go.
- If you're in a life transition, tell us about it. HANNAH definitely is. Babies will take you there whether you're ready or not!
* If you need help getting THROUGH said life transition, let us know.
We won't try to fix anything. I'll just take what you give us and hopefully provide some ideas and inspiration. As always, I'll go first so you know it's safe. Can't wait for Wednesday to share a new step I'm taking. See you then.