Let’s Get Horizontal by Matthew Miranda

Posted: March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve been stuck on a short story for weeks, unable to get from point A to point B.
One instinct says to move from A to B, simply do so: the shortest distance between points is often a straight line, and even when it isn’t, thinking linearly can feel faster.  And yet, despite this appeal, linear thinking can obstruct the creative process.

When a philharmonic conductor knows a crescendo is coming, they signal for a decrescendo; when the music calls for softening, the players first play louder.  This allows the musician—the creator—as much license as possible to fill in a space, in this case the space between loud and soft dynamics.  It seems an obvious tactic after it’s been learned, but I know as a former student and teacher of piano that when students see a crescendo marking the first thing they do is get louder; by the time the climax in the song occurs, the player has run out of room.  Instead of a rising action, the flow plateaus as continuous loudness.

Similar to this counter-intuition, Helen Schulman talked about “writing sideways” with relation to pace, a practice which allows her as a creator as much license as possible to fill a space, in this case the space between one story beat and another.  In her novel This Beautiful Life, Jack, a teenage boy, goes from lovelusting after one girl who dismisses him and the whole male gender to facefucking a second girl who shares his loneliness.  Schulman doesn’t take a straight line from A to B; rather, her narratives angle and curve in such a way that each new story beat feels expansive—horizontal rather than vertical.

I’ve been stuck on a short story for two weeks, unable to get from point A to point B, debating whether to slog ahead and fight the writers’ block inch by inch, one line at a time, or take a God’s eye view and map out the macro structure.  This is one of the most tempting procrastinations available to writers: spending hours doing something related to—but not—the one thing they should do: writing.

Maybe the answer was beside me—horizontal—all along.

  1. victor says:

    Try opening the .doc, save an A B and C version, and do something really insane in each one. One character kills themself in A. Another …. gets pregnant from an astronaut in B. Maybe in C they fall in love … sometimes trying out something really stupid can make the best “true” path jump out to stop the madness.

    Although madness is a gift …. eh I guess that wasn’t helpful, but reading your post was for me.

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