Between times


Silk’s Post #149 — It’s that mid-winter “pause” week. A little too late to say “Merry Christmas” and a little too early to say “Happy New Year”. It’s the space between official holidays that has become, in practice, a week-long time-out from normal work-a-day life.

So in between binge-watching shows I wasn’t able to keep up with through the year, and sweeping up (one more time) the needles dropping from our Christmas tree, and musing about what recipe I could possibly come up with to do something different with the leftover turkey … I started thinking about the role of “between times” in the plotting and pacing of a story.

There’s what happens – the plot points – then there are the times between what happens. Does this mean there’s nothing happening in those intervals? Absolutely not.

I think the “between times” are the natural spaces where the emotional tension builds in a story. These are the times full of questions about what will happen next. The times the reader is left wondering, speculating, reflecting, anticipating. So they need to be handled carefully, creatively, because they’re full of latent story power.

But how many writers treat these “between times” simply as unavoidable dark spaces between their starring scenes? Spans used functionally – to transport a character from one place to another, perhaps? Intervals that are story “dead zones”, or are merely hinted at in the narrative to hustle readers along to the important bits?

Perhaps the equivalent in visual art is “negative space,” the open area that surrounds the positive, or featured, image – in essence, defining it. In music theory, the “interval” between two pitches can have horizontal, linear or melodic qualities. Even mathematics has an “interval” concept (which I, wisely, will not try to explain because it’s way over my head).

In life – the great imitator of art – this principle of yin-yang is always at play. Says Wikipedia: “In Chinese philosophy, yin-yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.” In this duality, “yin-yang … form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.”

This principle plays out in storytelling at many levels, such as theme, conflict and character. In terms of plotting and pacing, it’s also a principle that can be used to craft a more compelling story.

The writer chooses which scenes to spotlight, to illuminate with bright yang energy, and which parts of the story play out under the surface in yin darkness.  The plot cycles through these mysterious dark intervals, when unseen forces are inexorably moving the story forward to an enlightening (or explosive) action scene – over and over throughout the narrative until a satisfying conclusion is reached. That ending could be seen as the balance point when the yin and yang elements combine to reveal the whole picture of the story premise.

Hey, you never know where your wandering mind will take you when you have the space of an in-between time to sit around daydreaming and munching the last of the Christmas shortbreads.

Maybe it’s just a sugar high. Or maybe I’m on to something?