Monday, 6 April 2009

Degrees of Space

I never did get round to exploring degrees of space.
So I want to pose this question:

Why do we have chapters?

Well, many works of fiction are not split into chapters.
In non-fiction, chapters serve (primarily?) as means of navigation.

Let's ask my brain why it chose to end Act I with a lengthy chapter which contained so many reveals and developments that it could easily have split the chapter into many chapters, each with a cliffhanger.
BRAIN: Hey, well it was really a question of pace y'know: the intention of the Act I conclusion was to leave the reader breathless and reeling, and also to develop lots of stuff that could be considered between acts.

Ah, so when we look at degrees of space, we consider that the duration of the space somehow tallies with the amount of stuff to be considered?
BRAIN: And, perhaps, the intensity of the stuff too!

I reckon a short space is required here because there's stuff to consider.

--- here is space ---

Malapropism of the week!
My son's into 80's music at the moment. The other day, he was listening to Adam Ant's Stand and Deliver.
Unfamiliar with highwayman etiquette, he asked me what the lyrics meant:
'Dad, what does he mean when he says "Stand in the liver"?'

In my last post, I postulated that we can create a break at the drop of a hat.
I'm beginning to wonder about that.
When using third-person, I stand by that statement (in a liver):
The author can shift effortlessly between characters and places, so character one is facing a charging elephant, and then the author crosses the globe to spend some time with character two, who might be tied to train tracks (double suspense), or even reading a book about elephant attacks (increase single suspense).
In first-person (present tense so help me!), I haven't found so many opportunities. (Lots of agents are now smirking.)
When I'm moving around, I use either a line break or a chapter break. The line break serves the same purpose as the chapter break, but it doesn't hamper pace in the same way: the chapter break is rather more conclusive.
When I'm developing more than one sub-plot (or plot element) in a single chapter - that is to say, when I'm developing two things with a single character (protag) - I might employ flashbacks. These are breaks in the narrative too!: they break from the narrative's own present-tense. But, when the flashbacks are creating suspense, they hardly slow the pace at all.

Perhaps, then, we use spaces for these reasons:
1) To move about (in time and/or space).
2) To slow pace - to give the reader room to breathe/think.
3) To move away from a development such that it hangs, creating suspense.

If we pull out the microscope, we can also see spaces created by punctuation and even the length of the words used, the complexity of the words (how many times have you read a novel to have pace destroyed because you had to turn frequently to the dictionary? Also, what are the effects of using long, unpronouncable names?), the shape and sound of the words, and so on. And spaces creates by spaces. Ornot.
I don't really want to pick spaces apart to that level here though.

Hey, I have to crack on with my day.
I'd like to leave you with some space. You might like to use a parcel of that space to consider the nature of reading:
We cobble some words together and the reader takes them in and makes sense of them. Hopefully, we will have caused him to feel a certain way and/or to consider something.

How long does it take to feel a certain way as a direct response to the meanings we create?
How long do we want the reader to feel a certain way?

How long does it take to think about the ideas we present?
How long do we want the reader to think about these ideas?

How many different emotions can we feel at once?
How many different thoughts can we consider at once?

Is our chosen reader more likely to read on because he likes thinking about our ideas, or because he likes feeling the emotions we deliver?
Ooh, and consider this:
1) I go into the bookies and hand over £26.
3) We win nothing.
Notice the transformation when I fill that space with:
I hurry home and switch on the tv and watch the build up to the Grand National and wonder if my horse will win or if my son's horse will win and how much we'll make if we win and how excited my son will be if he wins and the race begins and our horses are still running, and they're doing alright, and half-way through they're still running and then my son's horse falls, but mine is still running, and then he's up there with the leaders and he's gaining ...
He comes sixth.
Which bit is the most exciting and, as such, most likely to sustain interest? 1, 2, or 3?
Choose now!

Ta ta.


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


solv said...

Thanks Kaylee. Super to have you with us. :0)