“Four years ago David and I went to bed like it was any other night, brushing our teeth reading our books, chatting about a restaurant we were going to the next day…and when I woke up the next morning he was there beside me, cold. Blue. I didn’t…I didn’t feel him go. I didn’t even get to say…”
There is a short silence.
“Can you imagine knowing you slept through the person you love most dying next to you ? Knowing that there might have been something you could have done to help him ? To save him ? Not knowing if he was looking at you, silently begging you to…”
The words fail, her breath catches, a familiar tide threatens to wash over her He reaches out his hands slowly, enfolds hers within them until she can speak again.”
What if I blindfolded you, drove you down some highway and dropped you near a forest, no phones or money? Will you remain friends with me?
The writer also takes readers on a journey through their writing—through a character’s life, through many emotions, the twists and turns of the plot to some resolution or a message.
The reader enters into your story, essay, book trusting you to guide or surprise her. How do you guide or surprise her?
Or in other words, how will your readers navigate your story?
CONSTRUCTING THE SPACE FOR YOUR READERS
It is upon you, the writer, to help readers spatially orient themselves and find their way through the world you have created for them.
A key way, in my mind, is how well you construct the spatial characteristics of your landscape, the location of your characters and direction of their movement, how you maintain consistency and logic spatially.
Read the first para from the extract I have quoted at the beginning of the article. You will notice how vividly you can sense the characters spatially. You can construct their home. You know they slept in the same bed. You know they were located close to each other through the everyday rituals.
Read the last para of the extract. You know she is seated close to him and you know exactly the movement of his hands and where her hands rested finally. You are being directed to note that her hands are in his hands.
Now read this extract from Stephen King’s Night Shift:
“The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”
How does the author create the presence of the “thing” spatially?
ENSURING SPATIAL LOGIC
What is spatial logic?
If you want to character x to move from point A to point B, what are the characteristics of the space between A and B? If there is a river in between, does your character have a boat or knows how to swim? Or can s/he fly? If A is the peak and B is downhill, how will X climb down?
Spatial logic ensures alignment of actions with the spatial characteristics of the landscape in your work.
Read this extract from Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye:
“I lie on the floor, washed by nothing and hanging on. I cry at night. I am afraid of hearing voices, or a voice. I have come to the edge, of the land. I could get pushed over.”
Note the spatial logic used. If the character is lying on floor, then she can be “washed” over. Since she has “come to the edge, of the land” she can be pushed over. As a reader you are being provided spatial clues for the next action.
This is a piece I had written. Notice how I recreate the space inside the bus, provide clear locations for the character, direction for their movements.
“A disabled man and his abled wife sat in the reserved front seat of the bus. They were giggling and smiling at each other, sharing syrupy jalebis and sweet-nothings too, I guess. A very old man, all-bones and hunched, climbed in and edged precariously towards the front seat. All of us in unison asked the lady to make way for the man. But she wouldn’t budge; so lost she was in her romantic interlude. Finally she gave in and sat in a seat behind her husband who turned sideways. The couple went back to sharing jalebis and sweet-nothings. Their stop came and they made their way to the door. The man got down first and with smile pouring out of his only seeing eye, stretched his only able hand to help his wife down. She got down delicately, smiling and giggling still, clutching her bag of jalebis, to his side.
Love finds home, no matter what or when.”
TIPS TO IMPROVE
How can you improve reader navigation and spatial logic in your writing? These five tips will help you scale up:
- Select one of your written pieces. Imagine a possible reader. Step into their shoes. Can you clearly sense the spatial characteristics in your writing? Are you able to navigate easily? Do you feel lost in any section?
- When you write, make the intention to detail the space in which your characters dwell vividly.
- Provide your readers spatial anchor points to build familiarity so they can start navigating within the story themselves.
- Check how do you situate the location of your characters/objects vis-a-vis other characters and objects? Simple rule: Location =Relation. The closer your characters are located to each other, closer their relationship and vice versa.
- Check for spatial logic for different actions in your work.
Let me know if this helped scale up your writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Header pic courtesy: Jill Wellington from Pixabay)