The Caged Words
You will have come to Wild Words because you want to share your stories, and/or because you feel that there are things about your storytelling that could be different. However, it can sometimes be difficult to work out exactly what isn’t working, and why. The words stuck in the back of your throat, and caged words on the page, are like the tracks the caged storyteller leaves behind, the clues to their functioning.
The first step is to become aware, for example, of what we miss or omit, overstate or repeat on our page. Then we need to trace a path back from each of those habits and see how the storyteller is demonstrating that pattern in the way they live as whole. At Wild Words we investigate where we remain caged in our lives, and where we are roaming free. Then we work to move from the former to the latter. When we work in this way with our lives, we simultaneously work with its reflection in our conversations, and on the page.
Now, let’s learn to recognise those caged words.
On The Page…
The setting and context is vague and abstract. We cannot imagine or visualise the created world. It never becomes real to us.
Caged words have to be forced into narrative shapes. There is no natural arc, no sense of a story telling itself, or of depth of meaning. Without the momentum of the arc, the story does not complete in a satisfying way.
Caged words have no sense of rhythm or pattern on the page. They are not flexible and fluid. They are predictable and lifeless on the page. They bring nothing new to the world of the reader.
The tension does not rise, and peak, before a denouement. It is stuck always on a high level, fails to take off at all, or jerks along.
There is little texture, or colour to the story. An overall impression of limitation is created by restricted use of sensory impressions and bodily sensation. Where they are used, it is not in the best interests of the story. Their use does not take us deeper into the reading experience.
The main reason that we read is ‘to feel’. In opening ourselves up to allow author-given emotion to fill us, we take an emotional risk ourselves. We know we are reading caged words, when we don’t feel that risk has paid off.
In caged words too much emotion is contained, and inappropriately used: The reader is overwhelmed, confused or simply bored by the bombardment of intense, unchanging emotion. There’s lots of raw emotion there, but we’re not sure how it relates to the story we were expecting to be told. We can end up feeling traumatised by reading it. Sometimes caged words read or sound like theatrical, like melodrama, because there is no smooth transition between emotions. They can seem artificial. There is no surprise, no depth. They often ramble, unguided across the page. The book reads as padded out.
Conversely, caged words can present as containing too little emotion: Just as emotion or drama are reaching their climax, they cut away from the scene. We are left craving more. We feel exposed, because we were dropped at a key point. Caged words summarise parts of the story in which there are uncomfortable emotions present, instead of expanding into detail, and allowing the reader to feel those emotions deeply. As a cover for this, they go into too much detail around events that include pleasant or neutral emotions.
Reading caged writing, we cannot identify or care with the lead character. We do not feel we experience events through their eyes. In some examples of caged words, the hero has no strong passion, goal or aim. The story meanders aimlessly. And if he doesn’t care about his life, how can we? In other examples, there is a clear aim set up at the outset to engage us. Unfortunately, the story then digresses from that. This frustrates and disappoints us.
In caged writing, there is sometimes no clear opponent, or source of threat.
The obstacles are weak. The people and institutions that might get in the hero’s way, suddenly decide to become his friend, or to capitulate before the end. Or they just don’t have the strength to stand up to him. As a result of this there’s no struggle, no drama or tension. The reader loses interest.
The characters within caged stories have to be poked and prodded, sometimes whipped, in order to make them perform for us, They have to be force-fed dialogue in order to give the reader even a stilted sense of character or plot progression. This is no different to the caged tiger, who must be bribed and threatened until he will climb on podiums and dance to the clown’s drum in front of the paying crowd.
In caged storytelling, syntax is narrow. Words and ideas repeat. It seems that these words are confined, and looping. Deep inside them, something more expansive and passionate sometimes seems to stir, and is occasionally glimpsed. But almost as soon as it is sighted, it recedes again.
The words have been rehearsed, or the ink marks carefully composed, but there is a fragmentary feel to the writing or telling. There’s something about those white spaces; the no man’s land of paragraph breaks, the pauses between words, the blank page at the end of a chapter. We feel that if we could just see past the proliferation of symbols we would find wildness lurking in the shadows of those words.
The caged words change point of view in a random and confused way. The point-of-view of the story, the place from which the reader observes it, is inconsistent or rapidly changing. The reader ends up confused and disorientated.
When the words are not wild, the story is full of complications. Generally, we’re not good at simplicity. We are ‘human doings’ rather than ‘human beings’ adding complications to our story plots wherever possible. There’s a big difference between complexity and complications. The former is helpful. The latter is not. The former adds layers of richness. The latter prevents us from get hold of the emotions of the story. Complication does not leave enough room for the characters to develop, and for the emotions to expand and transition.
In the experience of listening or reading caged words, the reader ends up feeling lifeless and frozen themselves.
The Caged Writer
The caged writer lives inside their computer, which is inside the room, which is inside the house. There are three levels of separation between them and the world. The walls and floor are white and flat. The desk is smooth and polished. The windows are double-glazed, the door locked. The air doesn’t move. All smells and sounds are shut out. Nothing comes into the space unless they allow it. In these controlled conditions they try to breathe life into their characters and imagined worlds. But they feel like a bird with damaged wings, or a river cut off from its source. It just doesn’t flow.
Their work is rejected by agents and producers, as ‘dull’ and ‘uninspiring’. They worry, and the more they worries, the worse their writing becomes. Words form themselves into looping monologue, obsessing around the question of how to solve ‘the problem’. They feel unbearably stiff and uncomfortable in their body. Their head feels as if it is about to explode. They pace the room. They return to a childhood habit of biting their nails. They eat junk food to comfort themself. Their anxiety levels are high and they manage them by drinking alcohol, and smoking. They are tearing their hair out. Now they are very, very afraid that they're a terrible writer, and if they can’t write, then what else is there?
They are angry with themselves a lot of the time. When they can’t take the self-hate any longer they turn it outwards and become furious with the world. When the energy of anger had no release, they get depressed. They want to sleep all the time. Their whole life is now affected. And in truth, they can no longer remember where it all started.
Now, as they rattle round the cage that their office has become, it seems that their trapped words have morphed into a caged tiger, and their head is the cage. The words start to talk. They spit, they bite, and they tease. Then they roar and they rage. They crash against the bars of their cage. They ask- ‘why do you keep us slaves like this?’ They are threatening to tear the writer, and themselves apart.
It dawns on the writer I am that caged tiger. My words are that caged tiger. How on earth am I going to free the trapped words, to be the writer that I want to be? All they know is that they have to get out of that room.