Story Bowls

Posted: June 22, 2009 in graffiti living

What shape is a story? Make that shape with your hands. Did you make a circle, a triangle, a square? Some people even draw squiggly lines, or try to trace a story arc in the air. This makes sense – stories have shape and pattern; and most plots follow the trajectory of an arc, though often with twists and turns.

Now, I want to show you the real shape of a story. Make the shape of a bowl with your hands. Fill your cupped hands with water – I’d advise doing this away from the keyboard! Try to hold your hands so that the water doesn’t leak out. This is your story bowl.

Story Bowl

When readers look at your work, they’re not interested in the words, so much as the stuff that’s held inside them. No matter how much water you try to hold, most of it will slip through your fingers, unless your hands maintain a good shape. That’s how it is with stories; the quality of your story determines how much of the world it can hold.

Visualise your story bowl as you write. Try and see the world in which the story takes place as a handful of water that you’re trying to keep inside the bowl. The words will come – don’t look for them, just focus on whatever it is that you hold in your hands. You want to make of your story a bowl that can hold the world; and in order for your words to be able to hold the world, they must be watertight. Your story literally needs to hold water. If your story can be picked apart, then you’re going to get wet.

Lao Tzu said that a bowl was useful, not in itself, but because of the empty space and what it could hold. When you write, you’re making a space for the world. A story bowl has the potential to hold any amount of water. Sometimes a novel may only hold a cupful of water, because it is full of holes, whereas a haiku may hold the entire ocean. It all depends upon the strength of the vessel.


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