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Word Bridges

Updated on January 18, 2012

'She went over to the door, opened it, and walked out, not forgetting to close and lock the door behind her. She walked briskly up the garden path, opened the gate, stepped out onto the pavement and let the gate swing closed behind her. She kept up the same brisk pace with which she'd walked up the garden path as she set off down the street. She passed Mrs Finch on her way towards the end of the road, and nodded a greeting to that lady. Mrs Finch ignored her as usual.'

And so on.

So, I wanted to talk about word bridges today. I don't know whether 'word bridge' is a term that's already been coined, but I'm using it all the same. Shakespeare was allowed to invent words and sayings, so I don't see why I shouldn't be able to - with my astonishing wit it's very likely that I'll be just as famous as he is, one day.

The way I see it, there are two kinds of word bridge: there is the word bridge that crosses over a river of filth, a river that teems with life of the grossest kind, that is full to bursting with slimy, eely, slippery, unmentionable creatures that wriggle and squirm and cannot be caught or tamed; and there is the word bridge that spans a void, that crosses a vast expanse of nothing, and makes the crossing much easier and less aimless.

Let me explain what I mean. You will have noticed that unconnected and disjointed pile of drivel with which I opened this hub? Well, these boring and senseless paragraphs are the bane of my writing life. They're almost like a brain condition that needs treating with some kind of therapy. An English Literature teacher at school once told my class that we had to be careful to include plenty of detail when moving our characters about, that we shouldn't forget to make them walked around furniture, or open doors before walking through them. Well meant and not incorrect advice - we should never allow the reader to imagine a character slamming face first into a door because we forgot to make them open it. However, this piece of advice stuck with me a little too well (indeed, it is the only thing I can remember this teacher saying), and so now I have this problem of writing far too much extraneous detail, resulting in all of my characters seeming to have quite severe OCD: check the door, check the keys, check the gate ... My writing is full of such passages. And so I have invented word bridges for myself. It involves stationery, which is always good. I take a sticky note (one of the tiny ones, that are too small for actual notes, that are just really page markers) and I draw a little bridge on it, and stick it next to the offending paragraph.

It may not look like a bridge to you, but it's one of those little wooden garden bridges, you know? The kind that stretch over a pond?
It may not look like a bridge to you, but it's one of those little wooden garden bridges, you know? The kind that stretch over a pond? | Source

This forces me to identify the drivel, and reminds me, on read-through and edit, that this paragraph has to go, or at least must be seriously précised (this does not say precise-d, it says précis-ed: the action of applying the précis method of condensing written material). I can't not write these tedious paragraphs, because at this time in my writing career it is still within me to write about how my characters get from A to B. But with these nifty little word bridges I am learning to self-edit, and to see the flaws in my work.

So the opening paragraph could become,

'She walked into town.'

Wow. That would save a lot of time and heartache.

You might wonder why I can't just write that simpler kind of sentence in the first place? I ask myself the same question, often. Well, it just doesn't occur to me to write like that at the time. It's only afterwards, when I reread, that I notice these things. (I might perhaps consider word-bridging this whole hub so far, to simply read 'don't waste words'.)

The second kind of word bridge is a much more useful tool for anyone who doesn't have my kind of gapophobia* and mental problems, or perhaps for those who only share my second kind of mental problem. This word bridge genuinely helps me to write on past a block. (Some people don't believe in writer's block, and that's fine - I get it often, and I find ways to deal with it, so it becomes less of a problem.) It again involves the same kind of stationery as I mentioned before - you might, if you have little stationery quirks, prefer to colour code your bridges, or use different little cutesy bridge drawings. I'm not so fussy - one kind of bridge, on one colour of sticky will do for me.

The second bridge, as I sort of intimated, has saved my novel from the bottom drawer. I hit writing blocks fairly frequently, and particularly in my fantasy writing when I just do not know how to move my character on to the next episode (fantasy writing can be heavily episodic: defeat one baddie, move on to the next one, defeat that baddie, have a rest and some food, move on to the next baddie, and so on ...). I can write away for days, and look back to realise that my character has not left the spot I placed her on over a week ago; I have allowed her to rest on her laurels, chatting to people, thinking a lot, getting comfy and fat, and feeling far too confident in herself, when she is supposed to be out there, questing! I know I am doing it when I write it, but it's because I just cannot think of a way to move on to the next stage of the journey. And so, in consequence, I still see a whole empty book before me - as I said, a void - waiting to be written with thousands of splendid words. It's terrifying, and impossible.

So I employ the use of the word bridge. I leap over the gap (using a magic sticky note as a reminder to return later), the place where I probably only need to write 'she set off into the woods', and I write the next episode. I now know that I no longer have to earn the right to write the next episode by grinding my way through the exit of the previous one. I am allowed to move on, leaving something unfinished! Who knew?! So instead of a vast expanse of white empty pages to look at, we now have some writing. There are still empty pages, of course, but now some of them have been filled. It then becomes a much simpler matter to go back to the word bridge and fill in the gap, to see more clearly and write a simple sentence or two to allow the character to leave one scene and move into another.

Of course, I may be a very peculiar writer that finds it difficult to move a plot forward (I write a detailed synopsis, so I'm not sure why I find it difficult to move from one chapter to the next), but I just imagined that this little writing tool might be useful to someone out there. And at the very least, someone might read this waffle and be slightly amused.

*gapophobia - fear of leaving gaping holes in one's writing

Word Bridges

In short, leave tricky bits unfinished, write the bits you can write, go back and fill in the blanks at the end. That's all I wanted to say - I could have saved myself the trouble of writing a whole hub really.


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    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      And (with reference to my earlier comment), when they asked me if I had any allergies, I most probably mumbled, "Cape Lilac trees, in a West Australia garden" and thought I had made it quite clear to them.

      That's the way I operate (no pun intended).

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      John D MacDonald, just had his character go back, with a young lady, to his houseboat and wait for a minion to come and find him (the hero) when needed. Footman, instead of bridges.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 5 years ago from London, UK

      Very interesting. It's the first time I have read about it and must come back to read it again.


    • profile image

      Bridges2thewords 5 years ago

      I love the idea of building bridges with words. My name for my writing hobby is "Bridges to the Words". I decided on that name because there is a third word bridge. The one that takes someone from fear of putting the first word down to finishing a project. I thought of that Ichabod Crane thought it best, as he fled the Headless Horseman.

      “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.”

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Talking about word bridges, I have to use some bridges almost "manually". If I want to remember the name of the lilac tree, I have to first say to myself "Cape lilac" a tree that grows in West Australia. I have never been able to do the move automatically.

      And another: There is only one thing that I am allergic to in this world *well, so far) and it is morphine. But I have the greatest trouble remembering it. I have to do two bridges

      Sleepy - in the arms of Morpheus - Morphine.

      So if I go into hospital and they ask "Any allergies?" I have to go through that... but usually I forget "sleepy".

      And why am I up writing at this time of the morning - before the crack of dawn?

      I am going into the hospital to have a hernia repair.


      So in the ambulance which will be picking me up, I'll be saying "sleepy, sleepy, sleepy".



    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Good. I'll make sure to charge you double then, mates' rates, you know?

      8c a day? Jeez, that's incredible. I'm doing something wrong. What is it? Not enough poetry in my hubs? More photographs maybe?

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      i have made £7.64 up to four months ago, and after that they say that I have nothing being added, although it goes up by an amazing 8c per day, at times. Croesus was never this rich.

      Your rates mean nothing to me, Linda.

      Pshaw. I am going to be so rich!!!!!!

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Right, good, so. When you've published that hub, after Nellieanna has checked it over for you, I will make a concerted effort to be among the first to read it! I could do with a good bit of depressed fun. Actually, I could do with a holiday, but I ain't gonna get one.

      When you've written that epic novel my rates will be about £50 an hour. Will that be alright? You'll have made loads of money from your hubs of course, so you can just give me that. I've made £6.57 in the last twelve months - isn't that brilliant?!


    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Oops! Forgot.

      (Typo, of course)



    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Hi, Linda. I just seem to want to move my arse to look for a publisher. I am happily writing a couple of stories, and for the last five days I have been working on a hub which should thoroughly depress everybody who reads it... that should be fun.

      But I am going to show it to Nellieanna BEFORE I publish it, so that she can tell me where I have made my usual typos.

      Of course I need proofreading. This is me, Innit?

      Don't worry, my friend, if I ever grow up and write the Great Australian Novel (We all aspire to do that) you will be the first person I shall go to to do just that... paid of course.

    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Hello Genna. It is easy to forget to give ourselves permission to just jump over sections that we're finding difficult, and allow ourselves to come back to them later. A cold read, as you say, can help to fill in the blanks, and make things appear much more clearly. Ah, thank you, I am now seeing much more clearly as a result of your comment actually!


    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      I have no idea what my methods really are! I just write about little things that occur to me as I go along, purely for the satisfaction of having written a hub and having a few people read it and tell me how amusing I am! You know this to be true of me.

      I don't plan in very much detail either. I do write a synopsis sometimes (though the only finished first draft of a novel that I completed just wrote itself, with no planning whatsoever - it's just how it happens sometimes), but it's always very loose and I generally don't know what the ending will be. And then I just write whatever comes into my head, having a vague idea of the direction I'd like to go - my characters very often don't make it to the destination I had in mind, but they find somewhere different to camp. That's fine. And usually it works out better than what I had planned anyway.

      It's funny, but you're right about characters taking a bite out of your hand. I always thought that that was a ridiculous notion, and writers who said things like that were probably just very pretentious and just showing off. But it really is true, that characters can really surprise you sometimes. It's wonderful!

      Now, characters with OCD are all well and good, and fascinating if the story requires them. But when I write detail for detail's sake then my story fast becomes just plain dull. (I don't think there's much wrong with counting cutlery - I do it all the time, and I KNOW that my mum has nicked one of my teaspoons, and I just don't know what to do about it because I've looked in her cutlery drawer and it's not there, and my set can't be bought anywhere now!) I need to work on details, and learn to make them fluid and necessary and fitting. That's what my word bridges are for - because it's taken me four years to write six chapters of a novel on account of me getting bogged down in writing the perfect details. I think that I might as well start getting the story down, and then going back to work on the details at my leisure - having a finished plot, I think, will help me find out what the right details should be.

      I've got a headache now, and I've really confused myself.

      Sorry I've not been here much. I'm so stupidly busy with my kids and my cycling, and I'm getting a bit run down, and I've had a cold for two months, and I've just been asked to write a children's story for my friend's niece, and I'm trying to find proofreading jobs, and really all I want to do is read and write hubs but I'm not allowed because they don't bring in any money, and it's all just a bit mad! I love it though :D Being busy is brilliant - I do really wish I had more time to hub though, I'm missing it desperately.

      Have you got anything you want proofreading? Has Nellie been correcting your spelling? Have you been looking for a publisher?



    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Hello Rick, and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      I'm glad you found my ideas amusing - that was really all I was hoping for!

      I think you have it exactly right, to write how you want to, to write what you want to write, and choose when to write it. When I first thought about writing I did buy a few 'how to' books, and some of them were interesting, some of them were useful to a certain extent, but all of them had in common that they told me exactly how to write - and in real life I just don't think writing works that way. Every writer has to find their own way, and the only way to do that is to get on and write. A person could spend an awful long time reading tips and pointers written by other writers, and never get down to the business of actually writing! There are things that you will never find out from books (or hubs!), things that happen during the writing process that will be personal to you (quirks, epiphanies, disasters, tremendous successes, bright lights, big blank spots, the inexplicable disappearance of many hours, days, weeks), and you can't find them out if you don't just get on with it - in whatever way suits you.

      I usually don't know what to write!


    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Hello. Thanks for reading this silly hub.

      I'm finding that I don't have the same way of working for any two pieces of writing. Sometimes I think, in the end, though we think we have control to some extent, the writing just works its way out however it wants to, and we have to just let it. That's what first drafts are for, I think. That's just how it mostly works out for me though.

      I have worked in a more disciplined way though, and that worked really well too. Having deadlines can often spur me on, in a very good way, and I can be surprised at how well I can write when I have to . I always kind of expected the opposite of myself.

      I don't have a preference as either of these 'methods' - I like 'em both.

      I've been working on including more detail, in a style of Mervyn Peake (I loved the Gormenghast Trilogy which I read last year - I was warned against it, and stayed away from it for a long time, but now I wish I'd read it sooner). I find it very difficult to be descriptive without being cheesy. These are the passages that I fudge my way through and work on in more detail later - this is where my word bridges are mostly used at the moment.

      Anyway, I'm rambling into waffling territory. Thanks for dropping by!


    • Lady Wordsmith profile image

      Linda Rawlinson 5 years ago from Lancaster, UK

      Thank you Chris. It is a slog sometimes. But it's the kind of slog that I don't really mind. I'd rather be slogging over a bit of writing than anything else.


    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Word bridges are important, and something we forget when writing. I find that when, and if, I walk away and do a "cold read," I sometimes catch those important "missing links." Up and interesting. :-)

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Now, talk about a reason to stand back and look at one's own work and writing practices!!!

      I came to the end of the hub and suddenly realised that I wasn’t sure of my methods (if there are any) and so forth.

      Conclusion: I don’t really know. How do I move the story on?

      Well, presently, I am writing (and have been for months) a story that is plodding along with great difficulty… No, not difficulty, but slowly.

      I never plan anything I write, because to do so means that I am looking forward all the time like that kid in the back seat when dad’s driving towards a holiday destination: “Are we there yet? Can you see the sea yet?”

      I let my stories evolve, and I certainly let the characters go where they want and say what they want in the voices that they uniquely hold. If I try to push them into situations, or make them do things out of keeping with their characters, they are likely to bite the hand that writes them. And one or two have been known to give a nasty nip.

      The story I mentioned earlier, may be plodding along, but that isn’t a negative term. It involves a Traveller who is moving from place to place and so he pushes the narrative along by entering a new city, or coming across a small house, or seeing something hideous beside the road he is travelling.

      This story works, but I suddenly realised, while writing these words, that much of what I write works for me because there is movement within each scene, either by travelling from place to place, or there is movement around and through the conversation, if there is any.

      So if I find someone is walking to the front door, and opening it carefully, so as not to let too much cold air in; stepping carefully out and closing the door carefully behind him and then walking gingerly across the York stone crazy pavement, it is because that person is either a sufferer from Obsessional Compulsive Disorder which is relevant to the story, and that I (Woops!) he will soon be driving off to IKEA to indulge in a hedonistic afternoon of counting cutlery or rearranging their 365 Range of White Porcelain Coffee Mugs,

      It’s all in the telling, you know.

      Hi! Linda. Loved the hub.

      Marked UP and USEFUL.



    • Rick Crowe profile image

      Rick Crowe 5 years ago

      As a writer, I found your thoughts interesting and amusing. However, I long ago realised that I write how I want to write and what I want to write and when I want to write. (Was it Agatha Christie who wrote standing up?)

      Writeronline reminds me of a time not so long ago when I was visiting my sister in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We were in a bookshop when a writer's workshop of about twenty people started. We joined in and were asked to write whatever came into our heads after being given a key word. This was completely opposite to my usual tactic but I persevered, especially since my sister (not a writer) was scribbling furiously throughout the five minutes of the task.

      In a pub afterwords I commended her effort and said that I couldn't possibly work like that. She showed me her work. It was three pages of 'I don't know what to write, I don't know what to write....'

      Whatever floats your boat I guess.

    • profile image

      writeronline 5 years ago

      I've always written in a disciplined way. Working as an ad copywriter meant needing to know the destination (The Product Benefit)before setting out on the writing journey (The Selling Copy).

      Always a path to take the reader where you wanted them to go (The Sale)

      But I've always wanted to try that style of writing where you just sit down at a blank screen and vomit random stuff onto the page, not worrying about connection, (or connectivity), then take a look and see if you can pull it into some kind of cohesive (not necessarily logical) shape.

      I just did that, with a short story that grew, of its own accord, (I felt like just the channel / conduit) to six parts - that do actually tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and a resolution.

      I confess to doing a shipload of self-editing, but the story did take control.

      As to intense detail, mine's not the OCD kind, but I was attempting to write like Lee Child, which involves excruciating descriptive detail. It's a style that works for him - he's a way successful author.

      My point is, when you're editing, it's important, and I tink, very OK, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Personally, I found the way you handled this much more arresting and involving that if you'd simply said "In short, leave tricky bits unfinished, write the bits you can write, go back and fill in the blanks at the end."

      And I rated it accordingly.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Very impressive, and some very useful tips there. Writing can be a bit of a slog sometimes. We just have to persevere.