At the start of a recent scene in Game of Thrones *mild spoiler* the young
Arya is riding on the same horse as her captor. She complains to him that
she wants her own one. They argue. At the end of the scene, she rides away
on her own horse. I won’t say what earned her this right. But the point is
that plot-wise, she starts in one place and finishes in another.
Movement is what gives us a sense that something has happened. It can be in
a character’s emotion, behaviour, status, physical location, attitude,
possessions, learning, etc. One of the points of the solution to the
mystery of ‘Rosebud’ in Citizen Kane is that, for better or worse, it shows
us how far the character has moved since the start of the film.
The problem I’m facing at the moment is that I have an incomplete novel,
with sixteen characters. A lot of time is spent explaining their backstory
– because it’s fun – but they are static portraits, and it leads to an
overall lack of movement. I was trying to look for a solution to this
problem, and remembered Catch-22. The first chapter is eleven pages long,
and ten characters are mentioned. The protagonist, Yossarian, is in a
hospital bed with an unidentifiable condition and no intention of moving.
Then ‘The Texan’ is admitted to the ward who ‘turned out to be good-natured,
generous, and likable. In three days no one could stand him.’ As a result,
Yossarian discharges himself. Movement.
But movement towards or away from what? From what the character wants.
What Yossarian wants is to get out of the war (or just have an easier time
of it). But he is constantly frustrated by the illogic of the US army
system, the behaviour of his fellow soldiers (very rarely the enemy), and
war itself. The more he wants, and the more thoroughly he is frustrated,
the more engaging the plot becomes.
The minor characters also display movement. Often crossing paths and
hindering one another, as well as Yossarian.
There may well be a book in which there is no movement. But even in The
Outsider the main character moves physically and in action. He may not
change emotionally. But that very lack of change is the point.
Movement can happen anywhere. Greg Mosse points out that it even occurs in
a paragraph. This is from Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie:
There’s no swell to speak of, just the little lapping waves, so landing is
just a matter of running the Zodiacs up onto the stony beach, allowing us to
jump ashore. Not jump exactly: we swing our legs over the sides of the
inflatable, and drop down onto the land, ideally between waves. You don’t
want to get your feet wet, because they’d soon freeze.
The puzzle set up is, where are we? Also, what is this ‘Zodiac’? The
‘inflatable’ tells us, if we didn’t know. And the final line gives us even
more information. The movement is towards resolution of a mystery. It
creates modest drama and tells us more about where we are. If the final
line had been at the start, it would just have been journalism.
Chapters start in one place, finish in another; sub-plots progress in tandem
with the main one. The main movement though, is in characters and what they
want. It must be a movement engaging enough for the reader to want to find
out what happens next. The question for the writer is, does this volition
interest me, drive me, turn me on, appal me, inspire me, horrify me, attract
me, fascinate me, impress me. If not, the fight for it, frustration in
achieving and final resolution are unlikely to interest the reader.
The battle between Arya and her captor will continue until the final
resolution: moving forward, backward, forward again. But always moving.