Monday, February 2, 2009

The Widening Gyre

I know these are generalizations, but ....

Short stories and poems seem to take us inward, deeper into layers of character, motivation, memory.

Often pulp stories, or superficial melodramas* take the reader outward, through larger and larger layers, adding in more characters, more places, additional conflicts and subplots. We go out through the layers.

I suspect that in most stories longer than a few thousand words, it's difficult, if not impossible, to avoid that outward journey: the adding-on of new layers of conflict, character, etc. But isn't it also good to explore inward? If as readers we are on -- and here the metaphor shatters -- both spirals, going in to the core and out to orbit at the same time?

Story and meaning take us inward, past the surface, to the shadowy deep place of forgotten motivations, old grudges and loyalties, quiet fears and strength. It's the "why" things happen. Plot draws us out into the shining world, "where" things happen.

It's possible that in my desire for elegance I'm combining two things that need not and should not be combined. Maybe linking "story" with an inward journey and "plot" with the external journey is, well, crap.

But my point is: as hard as it is to do either of these well, imagine a book that did both. Who was it that said this: "Make no small plans."**

*To keep things safe, let's just call this category "anything you want to add to it." We all have our personal writing bugaboos: mine is superficial and unrisky prose.
** Google cites Churchill, Macchiavelli, and a 19th century urban planner named Daniel Burnham.

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