The first time I read those words was when I was so little, time loomed so large, and my only care was how to fill stretches of time. Capitalised above a black and white photo of someone’s grandma, I understood the words meant she had died and gone to Heaven, which I simplified to mean, no one would see her again and finally, she could snuff that thing in the little tin she carried about in peace.
Of course, now that I’m grown, my ideas have changed. Life is a series of transitions and death is the final one or another in the series, depending on what you believe.
The quality of our transitions can make or break the next phase of our lives. If you tumbled into adolescence with pimples and a pitch that would not deepen even as each new year brought your peers’ baritone in sharper focus, if you could count the hair on your face and on your chest on four of your five fingers, then you’ve known the awkwardness of bad transitions.
And if at twenty-four, your scars from popping pimples lay hidden under a well-groomed beard, you could croon the words, smooth transition, and we would nod as though Sade were singing Smooth Operator.
In writing, transitions connect paragraphs and pull scattered thoughts together so they make sense. Transitional devices are words or phrases that writers use to cue readers in a certain direction. They are like warning signs: ahead, keep left. A word like nevertheless, prepares readers for a contradiction, while furthermore, warns readers that the writer isn’t done yet; and finally, lets readers know the end is “finally” in sight.
Nowhere is the value of good transitions more evident than when writing short stories, short blog posts, or short anything. Brevity constrains writers to bottle meaning in as few words as possible. Like archers, writers discard word after word, until they find the arrow that will hit the mark.
Transitioning between time periods, i.e. moving from the present to the past and then to the future, before relaxing in the present again, requires more than bow and arrow. A good writer must deploy the right tenses and should never leave home without his adverbs of time. When writing a short story, I think it is better to avoid skipping from present to past to future to past to present. I mean, haven’t we got only one life to live?
But, we don’t listen do we? We station the protagonist in the present, give him momentum, and teach him to fly. Just when our readers blame that small urinary incontinence on gripping stuff, the protagonist leaps back in time. Reaching for a flag, he falls in a rose bush instead, pricking our readers with needles of confusion.
Loyal readers crawl back through our written lines more than thrice to locate the protagonist. But when they pick up from where they left off, they are thrust into a futuristic time travel with no warning. Dizzy from the spatial challenge, they finally abandon plot. Those who cannot lie leave a comment behind: nice one, don’t keep it coming!
So, a long time ago, I tried to write poetry. I showed my masterpiece to a
great poet teacher.
“You’ve done a half-decent job.”
“Half-decent?” My eyes widened at her audacity. She told me the truth when I asked for feedback. Who does that?
“Well, you could do better if . . .”
She rambled on about metres and stanzas, rhymes and verses. Her arms flailed like a musical conductor’s: a little alliteration, tenured cacophony, rising assonance, asinine onomatopoeia, and mindless personification. Spent, her arms dropped to her sides. Her eyes searched mine.
“Uh huh,” I replied, “But, I want to write it like this,” I showed her my poem again.
“Do you want to write poetry?”
“Y – e – s . . .”
“You can break the rules after you’ve mastered them not before!”
If you read this to the end without losing me, kudos to me, I structured my transitions right. Now, go and work on yours, so I can read your story without crawling through the lines!
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
Images from Microsoft Corporation
Photo of Omari Hardwick courtesy: http://www.omarihardwick.com
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