Shaun Levin

Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Moving through the Story

In Writing, Writing Exercises on July 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

On the phone this morning, we talked about movement, that you need movement in a story, that even if you’re sitting in a room staring at the ceiling or at the wall or out of the window or in the dark, you need movement. Movementlessness in a story is death. Movement happens in time, movement in space. A character remembers the beach, the waves, the starfish on the wet sand. A character thinks of suicide, of how they’ll do it. (I’ve been reading a Kafka biography and so many of his characters seem to commit suicide. And in a way it feels like he did, too, even if he didn’t.) The movement of jumping off a bridge. The movement of getting up to make a cup of tea, and the memories that brings.

And there’s the movement of the writing itself, because really that’s what writing is, even if we’re doing it on a keyboard, writing is born out of movement. No matter how much of your story or novel you imagine in your head, it will never be the same as the one that comes out when you start moving the pen on the page, the fingers on the keyboard. Writing – all movement – generates its own stories.

We were talking about walking. And rushing. We were talking about procrastination and making snap decisions. I’d been listening to Midweek on Radio 4 where Frank Partnoy had been talking about his new book, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay and in praise of procrastination. And Fatima Whitbread was talking about javelins and her life. And the journalist, Chris Bird, was telling about how he became a doctor. And that’s what makes a good story/radio programme. moving between people, adding layers within a framework, setting up the things or the people you’ll move between.

And I was talking about walking to Steve Wasserman for his great online podcasts, Read Me Something You Love. We were saying how Kafka – yes, Kafka again (it was his birthday yesterday) – how Kafka manages to create the sense of movement in his stories, in the two very short stories we read, “A Spur-of-the-Moment Walk” and “Passers-by”, and how the story itself follows the movement of the walker, who is also the narrator, although not entirely the I, but a disguised I, the I hiding behind the “you” or the “one” and in that way creates a feeling of movement, a tension, between who we know to be the I and the I that is not proclaiming itself.

Check your stories for movement. Chart the movement of your characters, the movement between chapters, the changes in pace and location. Memory is movement away from the now, as is fantasy, and wishing, and dread.

What would you say is not movement, and is stagnant?

They say a character alone in a room thinking, especially at the beginning of a story or a novel, is the worst thing you can do. My pet hate are stories that begin with a character waking up, as if that is ever the beginning of anything. But I also think it has something to do with the prose, that it’s not just about what a character is doing. You have to feel that the prose is leading you somewhere, that it’s taking you deeper into a story, into a mind, into an existence. The prose has to take us deeper into a soul, deeper into the unconscious, to a place where language is murky, and then struggle to put that murkiness into words. Writing that struggles moves. Writing that wants to find out, moves. Writing that is not happy with just depicting what is visible – that’s writing that moves.

Writing is digging. Writing is chiseling and hammering and slowly scooping out a tunnel with a teaspoon. Hoping for light.

We talked about moving through a story, the time it takes to get from a to b. I think linear movement can often feel like no movement, like the bright green line that runs across the middle of a heart rate monitor. And the dull noise that goes with that. And the switch that is the reader’s mind turning to OFF.