Stillness – How Shall I Write Thee?

Good fiction is life with all the boring bits taken out, not with all the hardship taken out.
Caro Clarke

Those ‘boring bits’ in life can be the most meaningful times yet it’s almost impossible to incorporate them into a story and hold a reader’s attention.

As writers, we are tasked to evoke emotion, to bring meaning through theme, to explore economic, political and social environments. Writing books and blogs tell us we need to delve deep into our characters to understand what formed his value systems, what motivates him and what he fears. Doing this creates characters in conflict and provenance for change.

In real life, change can come from moments of contemplation. During those moments we reflect, digest, and come to understand ourselves. It can be our impetus to change. Most often, I have found the deeper meaning in my life during the ‘boring bits’ like meditating or paying full attention to what I am doing like washing dishes or going for a walk. So how as a writer can I add these ‘boring bits’ in a meaningful way to my genre fiction? Where are those moments of stillness and contemplation in a novel, wherein a character takes time to contemplate and understand and is then compelled to act or change? How can we write it and still move the story along?

The act of reading requires active participation of the reader to turn pages or flick them across a screen. Interpretation, thought and emotion abound, thus the mind is never really still. There must be some way to bring a sense of stillness or contemplation to the page. How do we capture that moment when one contemplates a wonder of nature – a soaring bird, a beaver with a branch in its mouth, silently swimming past your still canoe, a gecko sunning itself or a cotton ball cloud morphing into a unicorn?

English Romantic Era writer William Wordsworth (1770-1850) captured such contemplations in poems and so masterfully conveyed his feelings that the reader is transported to the moment. Wordsworth’s simple moments became a contemplation of his life thereby revealing his emotions and what he values. His poem, To the Cuckoo is an excellent example of this:

O blithe New-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice.
O Cuckoo! shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?

While I am lying on the grass
Thy twofold shout I hear;
From hill to hill it seems to pass,
At once far off, and near.

Though babbling only to the Vale
Of sunshine and of flowers,
Thou bringest unto me a tale
Of visionary hours.

Thrice welcome, darling of the Spring!
Even yet thou art to me
No bird, but an invisible thing,
A voice, a mystery;

The same whom in my school-boy days
I listened to; that Cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.

To seek thee did I often rove
Through woods and on the green;
And thou wert still a hope, a love;
Still longed for, never seen.

And I can listen to thee yet;
Can lie upon the plain
And listen, till I do beget
That golden time again.

O blessèd Bird! the earth we pace
Again appears to be
An unsubstantial, faery place;
That is fit home for Thee!

Although writing styles and language have changed, perhaps we can still learn something from writers like Wordsworth. Stillness begets contemplation which begets understanding of character or a change in thought. This can be a call to action or a justification not to act.

So maybe, just maybe, there is a way to capture stillness or contemplation in a way so that it isn’t a ‘boring bit’ or elusive like the butterfly.

How do you capture stillness or contemplation in your stories?

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