The Beauty of Bridges

In nonfiction writing, an individual topic may spill out seamlessly. You know the content, the order in which the constituent pieces will go, and examples that prove the point. Yet when that stream of words plays out, you have only so many words, or pages of words. It’s time to move on to the next topic.

The process is repeated, emerging in some rough order and filled out as much as your research allows. While a topic may be strongly related to the one that preceded it, that isn’t often the case. If you have a lot of topics, as is the case in almost all book-length works, the writing can start to seem choppy. Yet the topics—or blocks of words—are not enough to fill out a chapter. So another type of separation besides a chapter break is needed.

One common solution is a subheading, the boldfaced words that in a phrase summarize the topic that follows. Yet this break is fairly pronounced. It is a road sign, saying “Turn this way.” If you use too many subheadings in a chapter, the reading will be even more choppy.

If you have similarity with topics, or if the topics are aspects of the chapter’s overall subject, you may find that a text bridge does an admirable job of linking up topics. The bridge can be as short as a sentence, but readers don’t mind transitions that are a short paragraph or longer, depending on how dissimilar the topics are. You don’t want to fill the book with fluff, but bridges can be informative at the same time they accomplish their main duty.

That’s because a bridge involves pulling back the camera lens of narration. Topic A and Topic B are specific, and you’re trying to find common ground between them. If you are writing about war, say, a nighttime encounter with an Afghani in an elevator might precede a sudden explosion the next dawn that draws out the troops. They are not similar in subject matter, so you look for like features at a higher level. An author might write a bridge like “The anxiety about unexpected terror was unending.”

You can also make all the bridges in a chapter pick up a common theme. Each time you turn to a new topic, the same thought is echoed. To extend the war example, the theme might be: all sorts of shadows lurked in that city. Each time you write about a new incident, you introduce it with thematic material. The reader is anchored by the repeated motif, and off you go.

Exercise: To solidify a bridge, you can review Topic A and Topic B to see if you can plant any echoes of the higher-level concern you have included in the bridge. That can include the same or closely related words, such as “unexpectedly” or terms like “I was nervous.” The reader remembers the hint, and that helps make the reading experience seamless.

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”   
—Isaac Newton

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.