One of the solutions touted to teach writing to the literary challenged adolescent has been the use of a device called the “freeze frame.” Named after the cinematographic technique that stops the action for added intensity. It was intended to add detail and drama. The students focus on writing a detailed description of a scene at one particular brief period of time. This device is also supposed to stop them from simply telling the story as if they were talking. Of course, among real writers, crafting a story by scenes has been around a long time. The difference is they do not end up with a lot of beautifully written incoherent, little pieces because they understand the art of the transition.
Recently, I listened as a teacher tried to define the transitional phrase so that students could find them it a short story. She kept saying “They make the story move along.” She was right even though she could not explain clearly why an author must use them. This is where writing fiction actually helps. When I write a story I don’t want to bore the reader with every detail of the main character’s life. I concentrate on describing an important event, and then skip ahead to the next one. But, I must include a transition to show a change in time, place, event or idea in order not to confuse the reader. This keeps the story moving.
Last year I had a student who could write quirky and charming essays but she thought the only transition available was “and then.” She also frequently forgot that periods existed. I would have her replace every other “and then” with a period so she could start a new sentence. Still, the monotony of the repeating the transition was marring her writing. There needed to be some way to get her to vary her words other than handing her a standard list from which she could randomly choose different transitions.
Students first collect their own set of transitional phrases (10-20). Then they look at each sentence of a composition and ask:
- Is there a change in time ?
- Is there a change in place?
- Is there a change in events or actions?
Next, they indicate the kind of change made (if any) by writing down the question number above the sentence. Then, they insert suitable transitions into their composition. Too many transitions can be overwhelming, so students just keep the ones that make the composition flow. This tedious procedure usually doesn’t have to be done more than two or three times before students start including the phrases without prompting.
Another important point to consider is figuring out when you have said enough and are ready to transition. One or two sentences is usually not enough. But, that is all some students want to do. (Hence the emphasis on ‘freeze frame’ style of writing which is supposed to force them to fill in the details.) However, there are times you want tightly written exposition that covers days, months, even years of events in a paragraph. The use of transitions should probably increase to make this passage of time clear.
Transitions can express the relation of an ideas – in fiction as wells as term papers, reports etc. For example when you are letting the reader know what a character is thinking, a fitting phrase to express change bolsters the internal conflict. Try assigning a composition that requires students to create an internal dialog – a kind of self-argument. Have students mark sentence that need transitions because.
- There a change in ideas
- The idea is different or unexpected
- The idea is a result of the previous thought
- The person is internally stating a reason or cause
Remind the students that transitions to cue the reader, which actually makes comprehending what they have written easier.