Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book, posted recently about the idea of writing vertically and horizontally.
What? we hear you say. I write tappingly, right down on my keyboard! (Or was this just our reaction?)
Never fear - she will explain all, as well as providing us with a handy dandy weekend writing exercise.
The short-story writer, André Dubus, described writing as having vertical and horizontal moments. In an interview for the anthology, Novel Voices, he spoke of the challenges in his first novel, The Lieutenant: “I’m not sure I knew how to bear down then… . I was writing what I call horizontally, making scenes go. In my forties, I switched to writing vertically, trying to get inside a world and inside a character.”
In books, you need both vertical and horizontal moments. You need the passage describing a quiet bedroom at sunrise, the light coming through in filmy curtains, as well as the lover driving away. A resting moment of setting can serve as an essential prelude to the action happening in the next moment when someone turns the ignition and leaves forever. Same with the slower moment of two people taking a long walk on a beach, easy with each other, discussing a trip they’re about to take where some event will change their lives. Few writers can keep the edge required for vertical writing throughout an entire book. That’s good, because most readers don’t want to stay on that edge for three hundred pages. Even in suspenseful writing, we need moments to catch our breath and reflect, to think about what’s happened, to figure out what it means in the bigger picture of the story. A balance is required, and finding that balance may be the next step on your book journey.
Exercise: A Different View
- Choose one of your characters and write a short anecdote, interview, or scene from his or her point of view. Write the scene in either first person (the “I” viewpoint) or third (“he” or “she”). Don’t worry too much about how the scene flows at this point, just try to get the character doing something. Make sure there is another person in the scene, so your chosen character has someone to bounce off.
- Read through the scene and find an exciting part that pulls you in as a reader. Underline that sentence or section.
- Start a new page, using that exciting part as the beginning trigger, but this time change viewpoints. Make the scene come from the mirroring character, not your main character.
- Again, underline the most exciting part, and transfer it to a new page. This time, continue the scene, but switch back to the main character’s point of view. Also change voices, go from first to third person, or vice versa—using the point of view you didn’t use in step one.
- After you read all three scenes, ask yourself, Which is the best story? Why? Your answer may reveal who should be telling the story. If you decide to stay with your original character, this exercise should deepen your understanding of this character.
Have a great weekend!