Friday, August 24, 2012

Vertical and Horizontal Writing--What They Are, How to Write Them, and Why Each Brings Interest to Your Story

The short-story writer, AndrĂ© Dubus, described writing as having vertical and horizontal moments. In an interview for the anthology, Novel Voices, he spoke of the challenges in his first novel, The Lieutenant: “I’m not sure I knew how to bear down then. . . . I was writing what I call hori­zontally, making scenes go. In my forties, I switched to writing vertically, trying to get inside a world and inside a character.”  

Have you ever driven long distance through the Mid­west of the United States? The horizon stretches forever, across a landscape that is flat and predictable. I loved driving the endless prairie roads when I lived in Minnesota and took summer trips through North and South Dakota.
But I longed for a little variation in the unending peace of the grasslands, which sometimes had me struggling to stay awake.

When I reached the western edge of these states, and the mesas and mountains began to rise, my heart thrilled. I always looked forward--after three days of flatness--to the Badlands. The newly vertical landscape provided more ten­sion and interest, a happy contrast to the sleepy time spent knowing exactly what was around each turn in the road.    

Just as the variation of landscape excites a long-distance traveler, unexpected moments charge your book with energy, suspense, and tension.