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Why Boring Descriptive Transitions When a Short Sentence Is All You Need?

The proudest 3-word sentence I wrote in my book

4 min read

I hate starting a book without finishing it, but once I abandoned one after ten minutes.

Ten minutes.

Imagine reading five pages of a “story” that looks like this:

My partner finishes her coffee and goes back to the bedroom. I throw plates and cups in the sink and go get ready. I take a white T-shirt, some pants, and a jacket and head to the bathroom. I get the shaving foam and the razor and start shaving.

Then I put on my clothes, brush my teeth, and go back to the bedroom. My girlfriend is there adjusting her new skirt in front of the mirror. I look at her. She looks at me. I smile. She smiles back. Then I get out of the room and go downstairs to wait for her. When she’s ready, we go out.

This scene looks like it’s full of action.

It’s not.

Nothing fundamentally important is happening here, and I find everything so cheap and boring. All this could have been expressed in one sentence:

After breakfast, we got ready and went out.

The American writer and writing instructor Gary Provost noted that this is a mistake writers often make.

Writers often write long-winded and unnecessary transitions because they are afraid that the short phrase hasn’t said enough.” — Gary Provost, “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing”

I was about to make that same mistake when telling a story in my book.

The Mistake I Nearly Made

In Chapter 1 of Any Language You WantI tell about my experience of moving from Italy to London and getting a job at a popular coffee shop chain. When writing that story, I remember getting stuck after a few paragraphs.

The section about meeting the guy at the recruitment centre and getting the job made me scratch my head for a while.

Here’s what I wrote.

“I was wearing a yellow t-shirt with a drum kit printed on the front when I walked in.

‘Hello. I’m Italian and I’m looking for a job,’ I said to the guy at the desk.

He smiled.

‘Thanks for sharing you’re Italian!’

I didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘sharing,’ so I just gave him an embarrassed smile and said nothing.

The guy was Italian too and he liked my T-shirt. He was a drummer like me and that was enough to get me booked for a trial day. I would have to work for four hours in one of the shops, and if everyone in the team liked me, I would get the job.”

***

After this, I started writing a long transition giving all the chronological details about the trial day.

I wrote about waking up anxious, taking the bus to the shop, meeting the store manager, starting my shift, and other trivial events. Trivial because all I really wanted to say to my reader was that I got the job.

But how could I say that without saying how the trial day went?

Major roadblock.

But then I found a great solution.

The 3-Word Sentence I’m Most Proud of

I deleted all that meaningless, unnecessary, long-winded description and wrote:

“I would have to work for four hours in one of the shops, and if everyone in the team liked me, I would get the job. They liked me. I was hired as a team member and as soon as I got confirmation of that, I wrote an email to my boss in Italy saying I was resigning.”

In three words I allowed my story to continue without boring myself and the reader with fluff that didn’t need to be there. All I did was include the most important thing that happened during my trial day.

They liked me” is a transition that Gary Provost would have liked.

A transition is simply a bridge and should be used to carry readers as quickly as possible from one place to the next.” — Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing

Want to Apply This to Your Writing?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this event, detail, or information relevant to your story? If it is, then include it. If not, don’t.
  • Would the reader feel confused if I didn’t include this bit? No? Then consider cutting it.
  • If I was allowed to include one thing only in this transition, what would that be? In other words, what’s the most important thing that could not be omitted? Include that and remove the rest.

We all have different writing styles and preferences. Writing is an art, so there are no absolutes, imperatives, or fixed rules.

And, of course, we all have different reading tastes.

But if lengthy transitions bore you and would like to keep up the pace of your narratives when writing, then what I said in this article may be something worth experimenting with.

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