Moving to Write: Exploring Flow For Narrative Energy

The idea of flow in writing is usually associated with ‘being in the flow’, that wonderful sensation when words and ideas synchronize, when your concentration is totally focused, making you lose all sense of time, when everything seems to come blissfully together.

Movement offers writers a different way of looking at flow.

For example, these two contrasting types of flow give interest and energy to movement and written narrative alike: sustained (continuous) and sudden (jerky, sudden, abrupt).

You might want to jump straight into the writing but how about trying the ideas in movement first? Feeling the different flows in your body before writing is a great way to help you understand the effect they can have on mood, tension, character or setting, and at the same time moving will generate ideas for your writing. It’s fun and energizing for you as well as for your narrative!

SUSTAINED

“…flowing, prolonged, drawn-out, streaming” (The Intimate Act of Choreography by Lynne Anne Blom and L. Tarin Chaplin)flower - sustained

Continuous movement, smooth, fluid, unbroken.

Think of the movement of a slithering snake, “walking weightlessly in space or on the moon…gliding on ice….float, soar…suspend…” (CAHPER Creative Dance Handbook)

a) Moving

Imagine your hands and arms are slathered in paint. Paint the space around you – all around you. Keep your hands and arms moving smoothly and continuously. No jerks, no stops and starts. One long continuous flow.

Now keep going for at least 5 minutes, this time letting the movement travel from one body part into another. For example: from right shoulder into left, from one hip into the other, from knee to knee to sternum to foot to belly button to shoulder blade to lower back to… Always smooth and long and continuous.

b) Writing

i) Write down 5-10 images that came to you or 5-10 words that describe how you felt while moving in this way.

ii) Using all or any of those words, write about 500 words. Keep the sentences long and continuous and smooth as though they are never going to end. Feel free to use multiple clauses – or not. No sudden shifts or breaks.

 To avoid long sentences and the marvelously supple connections of a complex syntax is to deprive your prose of an essential quality. Connectedness is what keeps a narrative going. Ursula K. Le Guin in ‘Steering the Craft’

SUDDEN

sparkler - suddenA hammer hitting a nail, “a puppet…a lion pouncing on its prey… attack…dart, swat, snap, gulp…” (CAHPER Creative Dance Handbook)

Think of dashes, sharp erratic zigzags, sudden interruptions, jerks, jabs, jolts, bursts of action…

a) Moving

Move as above, as though painting the space around you with various parts of your body, but this time in a jerky, abrupt manner with clear sudden starts and stops. Use elbows, hips, knees, chin… Keep it going for 5 minutes.

b) Writing

i) Write down 5-10 images that jumped into your mind or words to describe your feelings or sensations while you moved in this way.

ii) Using any or all of the words or images, write 200-250 words. Keep both content and sentences as short, sudden and abrupt as possible. Break off sentences or an idea. Use phrases. Break off phrases. One word sentences. Chop and change as much as you like (with content too).

Very short sentences, isolated or in a series, are terrifically effective in the right place.  Ursula K. Le Guin in ‘Steering the Craft’

What differences can you see in the ways the two types of flow affected your writing (narrator’s voice or setting or character etc)

Which do you prefer? Why?

What sort of event would best be described with sentences using continuous flow? What might happen in an event described in abrupt, jerky sentences?

What images, characters, scenarios came to mind when you moved or wrote in each of these ways? What would be the ‘right place’ (as mentioned by Ursula Le Guin in the quote above) to use sudden flow?

How did you feel the flow affecting your attitude and mood (moving or writing)?

Try mixing the two. Does that work or does it feel too disorienting and disruptive?

How about trying a dialogue – one character uses continuous flow, the other is sudden and abrupt? For fun: once the dialogue is established, can something happen so the characters switch flow (the continuous flow speaker becomes abrupt and the jerky speaker starts talking with a more continuous flow)?

Are you someone who needs music to move? You might find Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms CDs helpful. Among the five rhythms are ‘flowing’ and ‘staccato’. If you do get a CD, try exploring the other rhythms in writing too!

If you have any questions or feel like sharing any of your writings or discoveries from this exercise, the Comments Box below is ready to welcome you!

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