Space and shape

In many a piece of music, it’s the pause or the rest that gives the piece its beauty and its shape. And I know I, as a writer, will often try to include a lot of empty space on the page so that the reader can complete my thoughts and sentences and so that her imagination has room to breathe — Pico Iyer

I’m not sure whether any of my writing has included a lot of empty space on the page so a reader can complete my thoughts and sentences. Do I want them to complete my thoughts and sentences? I don’t know. I’d prefer they come to their own conclusions about what I’ve presented them. I don’t see the point in telling the reader to finish my thoughts. I don’t think that’s part of how I define my job description. I could be wrong, though.

But I do whole-heartedly believe in giving a reader’s imagination room to breathe, or at least let them catch their breath (if you know what you’re doing, of course). I believe that is part and parcel of letting a reader come to their own conclusions.

While empty space isn’t exactly on my mind when I’m staring at a blank page, I do think about pacing and intensity — when to find the quiet moments, when to ramp things up, when to hold your breath and when to breathe. Dynamics, not monotony. I think I have natural ebbs and flows in my storytelling abilities. It’s not something I overthink. I’m not sure how successful I am at it, though. Haven’t heard any mutterings on that front. Not yet.

When I think of empty space, I tend to think visually and aurally. I understand it when I see and hear it in a film. It is also something that can be felt and tugs at your emotions. Moonlight does that for me.

Words can’t describe how that movie has affected me. Everything about that movie is perfection. I say that because of how it pulled me in from the first scene, right to the last words spoken in the film. I gotta tell you, those last words were so powerful, honest, vulnerable and heartfelt enough that it made me cry sitting in the theatre.

There are very few films that have the evocative power to move me this way. In fact, I can’t think of another film that has done what Moonlight did to me. I tend to go for the wild ride, the hold-your-breath type of films. Moonlight is it for me. It is one of those gems that you find once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Writer/director Barry Jenkins knows how to use empty space. You see it in the cinematography. You see it in the actors’ eyes and their physicality. You hear it in Nicholas Britell’s music score. You feel it in the dialogue. It’s inspiring. It has stirred something in my soul and it demands to be expressed or manifested in some way in my own life. It’s a process. I’m going to let it play out. I look at it with curiosity and embrace the possibilities to come.

If I can convert a small fraction the empty space I see in my imagination and shape it into something beautiful and, maybe, transcendent, into words the way Jenkins converted words into visuals for Moonlight, I will be one very happy camper.

Beyond the sandbox

If you’re actually allowing your creative part to control your writing rather than a more commercial instinct or motive, then you’ll find that all sorts of interesting things will bubble up to the surface — Emma Thompson

Last week, I started taking apart my short story and started re-assembling it into a novel. It’s funny writing a novel in this manner because one usually starts with a blank page and a vivid imagination.

I’m starting with something I’ve already written — a gallant attempt at writing in a short story format.  Note to self: shorts stories are probably not your jam. Ever.

Now, I need to expand this fictional world. To let it breathe, to let it find its space, to let it get comfy. Almost every scene I’ve written for the short story will be expanded to its full potential. Well, that’s the plan. There’s always the possibility of royally fucking that up.

And I have a laundry list of new scenes I need and want to write. Those will be fun for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is there is still lots of room for the unexpected. For me, the unexpected has the tendency to give me a few ‘a-ha’ moments and gets me more amped up than I already am. My descriptions for the new scenes are one to three sentences long. Not detailed. Just the essence. Gives me room to play.

I have to admit that creating a world big enough to contain my two main characters is thrilling and mildly daunting. It is mildly daunting because I had tried to confine them within the parameters of a short story. Switching gears from confining to expanding is going to be interesting, but in a good way. The moment my two boys came to life, I knew their personalities and their story were too big for a short story format. I knew they would be trouble. The good kind of trouble. The kind of trouble I couldn’t walk away from if I had successfully contained them within a short story.

The nervousness (I guess that would be the best way to describe it) about expanding the story isn’t akin to realizing you left the barn door open and it’s too late to do anything about the animals who have scattered off to parts unknown.

It’s more like removing the barn itself, removing the walls, the roof, the barriers and realizing there is nothing to keep you from exploring everything around you. Into the great wide open. No restrictions. Although I have a list of scenes that I need to write — a path to follow — it doesn’t mean I can’t stop and look at everything that piques my interest along the way. There is an adventure to be had with my two boys and I know they’ll drag me off the path just because they saw or heard something that aroused their curiosity. But they’re good boys. Once their curiosity is satiated, we’ll get back onto the path, with a couple of extra bruises from mucking around and interesting trinkets in our pockets.

I’m excited. Maybe too excited or overwhelmed to know what to do with myself or the boys. But they have a very clear end game, those two. As much as I have to keep them in line when their enthusiasm bursts into rowdy behaviour, they’re very good at grabbing my attention and reminding me of the bigger picture when they need me to be on my game.

Now, is the time to get my game on. My boys have made it clear they love the idea of roaming, playing and exploring. Nothing holding them back or keeping them from moving forward. They have moved beyond the sandbox and they want me to join them. Whether or not I feel ready despite my excitement, who am I to deny them.

I’ll see you folks later.

Adrenaline alert

It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves — in finding themselves
— Andre Gide

Later this week marks the start of a long-overdue adventure for me. Ten days living in and exploring a different country all in the name of literary research. Yeah, it also happens to be a vacation. Well, I’m using vacation time to do this. If you think about it, isn’t doing something different, fun and cool, a vacation? Regardless of where the fun happens, be it away or at home? I think so.

Plus, I get to see my best friend for a few hours during a stopover. How do you jam a summer’s worth of living into three hours of shits and giggles? I don’t know either, but it’ll be worth a try.

Adventures are great because you end up learning a lot of about yourself. And I suppose if you’re having an adventure with friends or loved ones, they find out a lot about you, too. And that’s not always a good thing. I’ve seen the good and the bad which probably explains why the only person with whom I would go on any adventure, would be my best friend. Adventures with relatives can be complicated. Been there, done that, not all that impressed.

But having adventures on your own, is a different beast altogether. And for some reason, running off for some solo adventure is a concept I’m most comfortable with. I think it’s the lone wolf in me. Maybe it has something to do with not having to answer to anybody but the alarm clock. Yeah, I can definitely see that.

To be honest, in solo adventures (depending on what it is that you’re doing), you tend to make new friends albeit temporarily. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the friendships go beyond temporary and you’ve found yourself another life-long friend. Another kindred spirit. Those kinds of folks are fun.

I’m looking forward to making new friends (temporary or not) on this upcoming adventure. I’m also looking forward to discovering what my imagination will be inspired by during this time. During this process, I’m going to get to know more about myself as a writer, as a creative person, and figure out what kinds of stories I want to tell. Although I have a pretty good idea about the kinds of stories I want to tell, it doesn’t hurt to see if that idea can be expanded with the introduction of new places and new faces.

I can’t wait. The adrenaline is coursing through me. I’m ready.