Monday, August 9, 2010

Writing and Tai Chi

Two days after returning from the residency, I took part in a retreat with members of my Tai Chi class. We have been learning Form 42 since January, a long form that may take us the rest of this lifetime—if not much of the next—to master. Our teacher, Ben Booth, is upbeat, accomplished, and funny. At one point, he noticed that many of us were getting stuck at a point called Sky and Earth. “When you forget what’s next,” he said, “don’t stay in that stuck place. Move forward to the next move that you know, to keep the energy flowing.”

Soon after, I met with my writer’s group. I'm working on a novel that I set aside two years ago because I couldn’t figure out how to get Brandon, my narrator, from Boston to Cape Breton. This quandary wasn’t about transportation methods but about elements of a mystery my character was trying to solve. I didn’t know how Brandon knew where to go, once he reached Cape Breton. When I explained my problem to the group, wise Nancy Werlin suggested that I simply jump to the chapter where Brandon is already in the car, in Canada. “You’ll figure out what happens from there,” she said.

Ka-ching! Different forms, same advice. As I drove home, a scene took shape. I saw Brandon in a rental car, riding shotgun next to his aunt. His cousin and best pal are in the back. (His Mom isn’t there. Interesting.) They’re talking, and I begin to learn what Brandon knows so far; what he still needs to uncover.

How do others get from Point A to Point B—from Sky and Earth to Right Palm Strike?


  1. Very good advice from Ms. Werlin. I almost never bother to get people from A to B. I just put them there, then go back later and figure out how that happened.

    My sense is that the characters want to be in the new place. That's what they're yearning for. How they get there is, as you said, just transportation.

  2. Funny, I was dealing with the same thing this morning: I knew my story up to a point, there was a patch of darkness, and on the other side I saw the characters in a completely different place. No idea how they got there. After fretting about the dark patch for most of the morning, I finally took the Werlin-Koertge approach and "just put them there." And wouldn't you know it, the story started coming after that. I guess you'd call it going from Point B to Point A.

  3. I've come to the conclusion in my writing that if you put off writing the "boring" transitions, then they needn't ever be written.
    In picture books, sometimes you can simply turn the page (or change the chapter in novels) and the characters have transported themselves--no explanation needed in the text.

  4. I adore this idea. I'm the complete idiot who feels like they need to write every moment of a transition. Must remember this!!!!

  5. Very good advice. Thanks, Liza (et al.). Just what I needed today!