Shaun Levin

The Rule of Two, Part I

In Writing on August 1, 2011 at 10:24 am

Take six random books. For example, in a recent workshop we read six novels and collections of short stories. Sweetness by Torgny Lindgren, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, Drown by Junot Diaz, The Lover by Marguerite Duras, Alessandro Baricco’s Silk, and a collection of short creative non-fiction pieces called Sentimental, Heartbroken Rednecks by Greg Bottoms. They are all books I love, and it was a joy to share them with others and engage with the books as a group of writers.

Looking back at all six books I started to think about what they all had in common, to ask myself if there were certain threads that ran through all six, and if through all six, then maybe through all good books. All six books were concerned with memory, with the reliability of memory, and the telling of what has happened in the past and its bearing on the present. All six deal with the relationship between then and now, between there are here, between the way one/a character is now in relation to how they were then. Silk may not be so strongly about these themes, but all the other five very much are.

So I started to wonder if there is a rule of two in storytelling. Two time frames, two places, two versions of the I or the character/protagonist (I don’t like that word “protagonist” – it’s too academic, it doesn’t sound like a word with flesh and blood)… and is every narrative an attempt to reconcile the two, the two geographies, the two versions of the self, all in the face of the passing of time and the conflicting retellings that happen over time and that come about because of different points of view. We are not the only tellers of our own story.

Is the story always, at any point in the telling, only about two people, and if there is a third, then the third is observing. Is this about conflict? Can drama only happen when there is a rubbing together of two… two people, but also two time frames, two places, two versions of the self. Rub two together and the sparks begin to fly. Does this mean we are never alone? There is always memory, there is always a plan. What of stillness? What of emptying the mind? Is there story in that place? Those moments when we are alone in nature, meditating, and we are – just say it – at one with everything. is it only then that there is no two? Is every story the movement between two states of being? Is this a question that’s even relevant to fiction?

The Rule of Two, to be continued.


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