SAMPLE TEXT (Beginning of Jeff VanderMeer’s story “The Situation): My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic, with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage, animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Sometimes, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that that paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt. I didn’t know what to say in such situations. It seemed best to say nothing and avert my gaze. Over time, the runneled plastic of her arms became a tableau of insane images, leviathans and tall ships rising out of the whirling, and stranger things still. I would stare at her arms so I did not have to stare at her face. I never knew her name. We were never allowed to know our Manager’s name. (Some called her their “Damager,” though.)
ANALYSIS: Whether you read further depends in part on whether the reader is willing to accept those initial absurdities, and in part that depends on how good I am at rendering the initial absurdities on the page. Creating that effect in what is a static opening scene—a Manager sitting at a desk—means conveying some kind of action through description, as well. For these reasons, the Manager doesn’t just have “a leaf where her heart should have been.” Instead, the Manager’s “heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage, animated to lift and fall only by her breathing.” The Manager doesn’t just “catch on fire” when angry—the paper ignites and the plastic melts, with the consequence that weird images are burned into her arms. Motion, then, plays a large role in this opening paragraph, and serves as a substitute for action. This motion also supports a hall of mirrors providing additional depth in that the narrator is conveying the essence of not one, current, meeting with the Manager, but several over a long period of time. The passage of time is also movement. So what is happening in the paragraph? Not much. What’s happening? A lot is happening.
For the complete story, read
What differences do you see in the use of motion? What can image capture that words have more trouble with, and vice versa? What are the flaws in each version?