The Meaningful Transition

February 5, 2008 § 1 Comment

Now reading: Invisible Man.

I’m always grateful to find examples of excellent transitional paragraphs, because I have such a hard time with them myself. I heard Richard Ford speak a few days ago, and he shared this brilliantly obvious idea: writers write to have the chance to write–that is, they need to get to write some scene, confrontation, idea, or whatever, and they’re basically hoping to get to that point without completely losing either their readers or their train of thought. Those little paragraphs of moving from one room to another, of scenery-setting and blocking: I always find myself frustrated, and sometimes paralyzed, by those details keeping you from the big payoff.

Anyway, here’s an absolutely brilliant paragraph in which Ellison not only gracefully sets the scene and builds tension (you’ll have to take my word for that part), but also manages to reinforce themes he’s been quietly developing throughout the first hundred pages of the work:

A co-ed sat at a graceful table stacked with magazines. Before a great window stood a large aquarium containing colored stones and a small replica of a feudal castle surrounded by goldfish that seemed to remain motionless despite the fluttering of their lacy fins, a momentary motionful suspension of time.

“A momentary motionful suspension of time”! Ellison’s circling around time’s tricks and illusions, and I hope I can keep up and write about what I think he’s saying about time later. But for now, I’m just happy to appreciate that meaningful throwaway scene of goldfish, unmoving despite all their movement.

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§ One Response to The Meaningful Transition

  • Cliff Burns says:

    I’ve been doing final edits on my novel and I know what you mean about transitional paragraphs. They’re tough because they have to be seamless and discreet. It’s a real balancing act and writers like Ellison and Ford make them look easy. I’m jealous…

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