Writing Exercise for Narrative Energy: Juxtaposing Multiple Ways a Character Experiences the World

David Moore's 1994 sculpture Site/Interlude, Musée de Plein Air de Lachine

Site/Interlude by David Moore

In life we constantly shift between different ways of experiencing the world – between inner and outer lives, between doing and thinking, dreaming, remembering, talking, between being (in one’s body) and interacting with people, things. We shift between emotions, between judging, enjoying and complaining, between sensing and moving.

Forcing a character to experience similar rapid shifts disrupts linear thinking, often producing surprises which is very energizing for a writer. You might not use all the material that emerges but the process might expose a nugget of useful information about the character.

A quick example: Just prior to this excerpt from Virginia Woolf’s novel “Between the Acts” Isa Oliver watches her children through the window and herself in the mirror as she brushes her hair, thinks about the man she might have fallen in love with, remembers an earlier occasion when she met him, and then remembers an ‘aeroplane propeller that she had seen once’. Now she orders fish on the telephone while composing a poem.

The rhyme was “air.” She put down her brush. She took up the telephone.

“Three, four, eight, Pyecombe,” she said. “Mrs. Oliver speaking… What fish have you this morning? Cod? Halibut? Sole? Plaice?”

“There to lose what binds us here,” she murmured. “Soles. Filleted. In time for lunch please,” she said aloud. “With a feather, a blue feather…”

(‘Between the Acts’ Virginia Woolf p.15)

The Exercise

Establish your protagonist in one of the following core scenes:

  • cooking a complicated recipe for the first time
  • having a conversation with the boss about an important project
  • walking through the house planning what to get rid of in order to downsize or because the person(s) has lost the house

Now introduce people, things, conversations, interactions, reactions, memories, thoughts, sensory experiences (taste, touch…), realizations, movements, theorizing…

Keep the protagonist shifting between these alternate experiences while moving the core scene forward. The idea is to disrupt the writer’s and character’s control over the narrative flow.

Keep it going for a page. Two pages?

What did you discover about your character? Your story?

Let me know how it goes…



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