Movement in Fiction

Movement in Waiting for Godot

When I reread Waiting for Godot last month, I was scanning for Beckett’s use of color, but how he integrated movement caught my eye. Of course, it is a play not a novel, so the characters are literally on stage. Their movements necessarily follow the stage directions which are printed in the text. Nonetheless, their confined activity contrasted with their inability to leave the stage literally carries Becket’s message. Despite walking around, sitting, falling, pulling, pushing, and fighting, these characters are stuck in a recurring cycle. They are waiting for Godot.

As the play progresses, Didi and Gogo interact with each other, with Pozzo and Lucky, and with the boy who comes in to announce that Godot will not be arriving until the next day. Yet, despite all the talking and commotion on stage, these characters are going nowhere physically, emotionally, or psychologically. Whatever they are anticipating is not going to happen by the end of the play.

My reread made me stop and think about possible ways to use movement and its opposite—paralysis— in a text. Then, I started to wonder about how to use movement in my characters’ emotional arcs and in the plot. I also began to wonder if any of my characters were stuck in a time and a place as Gogo and Didi are in Beckett’s play. I realized that I needed to analyze aspects of movement and then reread my own stories based on my new perspective.

Aspects of Movement in Fiction

Movement in fiction, as in life, can refer to the literal body movements that a character makes. How characters move reveals their physical condition. Do they limp, hop, run, or climb mountains?  Do they have a remarkable physical condition? Are they as graceful as dancers or do they lumber around with heavy feet in old worn sandals? The author’s depiction of the characters’ movements creates a visual image in the reader’s mind. It also reinforces the reader’s ability to interpret the meaning of their behaviors.

How characters move their bodies can also reflect their interior emotional reality. If a character is pacing up and down, the emotional message conveyed could be worry or impatience. If a character is treading lightly, she might be sneaking up on something or being very careful to avoid stirring something up. If a character is strolling, she might be tired, relaxed, or unconcerned. If someone is staggering, he might be drunk or having a stroke. Thus, the verb for movement that the author selects conveys meaning and either illuminates the reader’s understanding of the character or confuses it.

On the other hand, emotional changes can be expressed through the character’s vocal movement. How is the character using his voice? One character might speak hesitantly while words fire from another’s mouth likes bullets from a machine gun. The timbre of  characters’ voices may be warm and loving as they murmur, or harsh and terrifying as their voices modulate at different speeds and frequencies in a fight.

Movement can also refer to the characters’ origins. Where are they from? Where are they now? Where are they going? Did they move from the West Coast to the East Coast? From Asia or South America to the USA? Have they always inhabited the same house or are they nomadic, moving from place to place? Do their lives and stories seem to be buffeted by the winds or are they firmly rooted in place? Musing about how to depict movement in fiction highlighted my need to expand my use of relevant terminology.

Vocabulary of Movement

My good old-fashioned Roget’s Thesaurus devotes almost three-quarters of a page to the various forms that derive from the basic word “move.” The term has physical, emotional, political, and strategic meanings.

A thesaurus is a beautiful tool to explore words and their relatives as well as the diverse layers of meaning. If a character were going to throw something, he could fling it, toss, lob it to someone, chuck it or hurl it. Each of these movements carries a different emotional valence. If a character were being stubborn, she could fix herself in position. She could plant her feet and stand with her hands on her hips. If the character were a general planning a strategic move, he would have to chart the troop movements with care. If a character were a soccer coach, she would have to map out how best to move players around the field.

This strategic facet of movement also leads to the use of the term in political situations. Political movements often involve efforts to move individuals emotionally through exaggerated media or informational messages. Or on the other hand, political groups are often comprised of citizens who are determined to create movement and change in the established governing structure. A movement against an unpopular war might involve crowds marching and protesting. Political movements are popular topics for literature depending on the epoch because literature itself is made up of continuously developing movements.

As a reflective observer, I have never been one for marching or protesting but my education in languages and literatures has taught me much about literary movements. While my heart lies in the French romanticism of the 19th century, my fiction writing has its roots in the 20th century, and my blogging is a 21st century phenomenon. Writing this blog has nudged me to clarify my personal understanding of movement in the texts I am writing, the use of movement in novels I am reading, and to better appreciate contemporary literary movements.

Writing Goals for 2020

This year my writing goals are to:

1. Continue to refine my first two novels, working on two chapters of each per month with the goal of submitting them for review:

My husband (www.billborderart.com) is an artist who works in oils. His view is that entering a contest is a type of adventure. Since he enters several contests each year, I decided to be adventuresome myself. In February, I took the plunge and sent off a short story and three poems to a writing contest. Fortunately, this particular contest offers feedback on entrants’ work. I look forward to reading the judges’ comments.

With all the snow we have had in Colorado this past month, it has been a good period for writing and editing. My first novel is taking shape. On February 25th, I finally reached the goal I set for myself in January 2019—to complete a first-pass edit of all the chapters. It has taken me two months longer than I planned, but now I am ready to print the manuscript out. I need to be able to read the whole document so I can mark it up and do some major adjustments.

My second novel is an orphan at the moment. I haven’t written any more chapters, but I have worked on the timeline to straighten it out.

2. Complete a draft of my third novel by December 30, 2020 by participating in the RMFW NovelRama:

Now it is only 13 days until RMFW’s first NovelRama of the year. Before NovelRama begins, I want to rework the outline of my third novel so that I can attack a sequence of chapters and flesh out more of the storyline. From March 20th to March 23rd, I plan to write 6250 words per day to further develop this novel, going for a total of 25,000 words. This month I already reworked the first chapter and had my critique friend read it to give me feedback.

3. Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2020:

Today is March 7, 2020, I am posting my third blog of 2020. The topics that I address in my blog are issues that I am grappling with in my own writing—at this point more on the content side than on the craft side. I find that the more I write, the better I read. This month I read a recently published novel twice, taking notes to learn how the author had moved the plot along.

4. Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Over the last eight weeks as vice president of BWA, I worked with a project management class at Regis University whose assignment was to help Boulder Writers Alliance solve some organizational issues. It was fun to be back in a classroom and to work with graduate students. They produced a thorough action plan for BWA.

In February, I also attended our BWA workshop for Writers Who Read with Gary Alan McBride. We discussed Trust Exercise by Susan Choi. The novel plays off the meaning of the title in multiple ways. I do enjoy reading writers who pay attention to subtleties.

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