Monday, August 25, 2014

Vertical Vs Horizontal Movement in Narrative

The following is an handout excerpt from literary writer and Professor of English at the University of Idaho, Kim Barnes. I met her at the Fishtrap writing conference in July 2014 where she taught:

"Vertical movement is what gives a narrative depth, texture, tension and resonance.  It interrupts the forward, chronological pace of a story or essay (action--what happened) and replaces simple linear movement with spatial complexity (thought--the why of the story). It represents the act of imagination--what propels us into the imaginative leap. There are many ways to achieve vertical movement, including:

1) Backstory (part of plot/action--more of an interruption of horizontal chronology than vertical movement but provides spatial texture)
2) Associative memory (part of thought)
3) Intellectual contemplation and query
4) Detailed, concrete description of characters, objects, setting, landscape
5) Figurative language, including similes (like, as) and metaphors
6) Lyrical "flights" (extended poetic contemplation)
7) Inclusion of outside information and research
8) Appropriate and intentional intrusion of the narrator

As you work toward vertical movement in your writing, read essays and stories by  authors whose work you admire. Pay attention to places where the author is employing vertical movement. You will find that most successful literary prose is made up of a majority of spatial rather than linear telling. Remember that horizontal writing suggests what, vertical writing suggests why. It is this contribution of action and thought that defines our best stories."   

More tomorrow . . .


  1. Hi Catherine -
    I like this & love her work. Want to do an interview or a workshop report? Hope all is well for you and this might work for you???

    Jan Bowman asks...

  2. I'm so glad you like Kim's work. She's a fine literary writer and excels as a teacher. So accessible, grounded and forthcoming.

    Yes, I could give a workshop report on Fishtrap. With that I'd like to add the kind of teaching I ascribe/subscribe to in my classes. How does that sound? I've been really flattened by a severe case of plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Have already had two cortisone shots, do regular exercises and get lots of sleep. Yet getting around is terribly painful. Orthotic is is coming. I have every gadget "proven" to work. Over three months now. How are you??


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