Wordspace: An Innovative System of Writer Training
Wordspace is a direct writer training. It works directly with forms that put the imagination into real action. Non-writers can become productive instantly; experienced writers can refresh and revitalize.
Wordspace Analyses are studies of fundamental technical skills. They are demonstrated in a workshop or in classroom setting by theatrical presentation. I have done these recently, using excerpts from various novels, two of which I draw on in the first section here to demonstrate the Wordspace method of analysis. The second section is a brief sample fiction exercise which I produced while working on these and other analyses. In the third section, I outline the opening process of Wordspace writer training, which readers can follow to get a taste of how this training begins, and, if they wish, actually produce texts and send them on to me for comment. Of course, readers may also send questions.
Wordspace analyses have a specific language of their own. It is a consistent language. What follows is a presentation of analyses in that language, with no further narrative explanation of the language per se. This language becomes very clear in Wordspace training. The two novels I have chosen are very different.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy opens with this first paragraph:
The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit from the narrow wainscoting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.
Wordspace Discussion of Text One:
There is a double focus: the candleflame and the image of it. The first transaction of the book is 'image caught.' It is spatially connected to the pierglass. The double focus has two transactions, 'twisted and righted.' 'He' is the next focus of attention, overlapped in time by 'when,' and has four transactions: 'entered,' 'shut,' 'took off' and 'forward.' The first three are directly connected to 'hall,' 'door' and 'hat.' The fourth has the quality 'slow' and the spatial element of 'forward.' Focus goes to 'floorboard,' which entails the transaction of 'creak.' This is spatially connected to 'boots.' His entity is further built by 'black suit' in his next transaction, 'stood.' This is spatially connected into dark glass, overlapped with lilies that have the transaction of 'leaned,' which have the quality of 'palely,' emphasized by the positive of 'so.' There is a connection to a vase. The paragraph as a whole has a path from the door to a face.
Focus goes to portraits, connected to 'him' by 'behind' and a hallway by 'along.' A quality of 'cold' is placed there. The portraits overlap through 'of' to 'forebears.' 'He' has the transaction in double negative of 'only dimly knowing.' The portraits are spatially connected by 'framing' and negatively identified, by 'dimly,' to 'lighting,' connected in space with 'narrowing wainscoting.' His next transaction is 'looking down,' connected by focal shift to 'guttered candlestub.' His next actions are 'pressed' and 'looked.' 'He' is overlapped with 'thumbprint,' connected by 'into the warm wax.' The wax is activated by the transaction, 'pooled,' that is connected to the veneer. Focus shifts here to 'face,' which has the actions, 'caved' and 'drawn.' Overlap by parts adds the mustache and eyelids, which have the qualities, 'yellowed' and 'thin.' 'These' is an external limiting reference to paper. There are two identical stages of a further negative to the act of sleeping. His path has nine (9) direct transactions in the path of the paragraph.
Shopgirl, by Steve Martin, opens like this:
When you work in the glove department at Neiman's, you are selling things that nobody buys anymore. These gloves aren't like the hard-working ones sold by L.L. Bean; these are so fine that a lady wearing them can still pick up a straight pin. The glove department is adjacent to the couture department and is really there for show. So a lot of Mirabelle's day is spent leaning against the glass case with one leg cocked behind her and her arms splayed outward, resting on her palms against the countertop. On an especially slow day she might lean over the case on her elbows‹although this position is definitely not preferred by the management‹and stare through the glass at the leather and silk gloves that lie on display like pristine, just-caught fish. The overhead lights reflect in the glass countertop and mingle with the gray and black of the gloves, resulting in a mother-of-pearl swirl that sometimes sends Mirabelle into a shallow hypnotic dream.
Wordspace Discussion of Text Two:
The first point of focus is 'you,' a low definition role word, connecting to the reader as an external reference. (On a basic level, all words have external reference to what they specify.) A second low definition role word, with a negative, is 'nobody.' 'You' has two transactions, 'work' and 'sell.' 'Nobody' has the transaction, 'buy.' A space field is created here: 'anymore.' The point of a glass case. She is overlapped with leg, arms and palms, each with a transaction and special connection ('cocked behind her,' 'splayed outward,' and 'resting against the countertop').
A double negative time space is added, 'an especially slow day.' In this time space, Mirabelle's is overlapped with elbows and given the transaction, 'learn,' that is connected by 'over' to case. An observer, management, is given the positive ('definitely') negative ('not') transaction ('prefer'). Mirabelle is focus, 'gloves,' receives an alternative reality as 'hard-working one' and an alternative special location of 'L.L. Bean.' Next in the space as a point of focus is 'lady.' 'She' overlays the quality of 'so fine,' limiting the gloves. 'She' has two transactions, 'wearing' (connected to 'glove') and 'picking up' (connected to 'a straight pin'). The 'glove department' is connected in a building of a space with the 'couture department' and is given a transaction, 'showing.'
A time space is created: 'a lot of a day.' Mirabelle is given an act on act of 'spent leaning,' connected to and given the transaction, 'stare,' that is connected to glass and gloves, limited by 'leather' and 'silk.' As an activated object, the gloves have the act on act transaction of 'lie on display.' They also have an overlap with 'fish,' with a quality ('pristine'), transaction ('caught') and positive/negative ('just').
A point of focus, 'lights,' connected in space to 'overhead,' has transactions of 'reflect,' 'mingle' and 'resulting.' 'Reflect' is connected to countertop by 'in.' Countertop is limited by 'glass.' 'Mingle' connects with two qualities, colors, 'gray and black,' overlapped 'from' the gloves. 'Mother-of-pearl swirl' is a connection from the active transaction word of 'resulting.' 'It' has a time space of 'sometimes' and a transaction of 'send' with Mirabelle. The shift of focus goes to Mirabelle, who receives the space and the action of dreaming, limited by 'shallow hypnotic.'
A larger space is overlapped in, 'Neiman's.' A plural point of focus, 'everyone,' is given a negative quality, 'silence,' and an alternative space, 'a religious space.' Mirabelle is overlapped with 'heels.' There is the triple act on act of 'tries,' 'quiet' and 'tap-tap-tapping.' There is the act of 'walk,' connected to floors (limited by 'marble') with the positive, 'percussive' against the negative, 'silence.'
Sample Text Exercise
Lacking A Destination For Now
At least she felt like a native American.
To end her life, she felt she needed to be a long way from home.
After the crash of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, she had felt she had fallen. Family values were not what they were now cracked up to be, and she had not felt a personal loss. She had been married to a fireman, but that had not lasted long. A policeman had arrested her once, but that had not lasted long at the Court House. The judge was her hero.
She had not expected to visit New York City, going through the tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan. She had certainly never expected to find herself driving a car under water. She did not have a driver's license, and she had never driven before either. She did not want to attract attention. She had stolen the car from her family, but it had not been much in use since her brother joined the air force. She had heard that the old mayor, Rudy Giuliani, whose picture had appeared as the Person Of The Year on the cover of Time Magazine, had early in his career (but after he had whipped the local Mafia) defeated the attacks of poor people who cleaned the windshield wipers of random frightened drivers, so she felt she was entering a safe city for the automobile, free from that low form of terrorism that she would never experience.
The weather was cold. She did not like it.
She did not care for New York in any way at all. She had never been there.
She laid a wreath at Ground Zero.
Now she felt free again, and wanted to live again.
Next, the basic first process of Wordspace writer training is presented so readers can get a taste of how the training begins. This start-up is sometimes called, "Being." It is the Wordspace foundation of writing. You are welcome to participate in this first step and forward the result for my comments.
1. Write, "I am "
2. Choose something. It can be anything. It might be something you could not imagine it could be. Choose. It could be something impossible. Part of this process is to make anything possible.
3. Describe it. Make it. Elaborate on it. Create it as much as you possibly can. Add to it. Realize it. Fill it out. This may include its thoughts or emotions.
4. It can move. It has total freedom of movement. Let it move forward on an open and free path of unlimited movement.
5. It can go anywhere. To any location, and any number of locations. Write where it goes. Endless possibilities.
6. It can encounter anything. Anything. Any number of things. Endless possibilities. Write them.
Engaging in this initial writing process sets the mind into Wordspace writer training. Readers are welcome to use these instructions to begin work with the Wordspace process. Readers are welcome to send their start-up pieces to me through the MAGAZINE (Subject line: Wordspace) for comment. While I may not be able to comment on all texts submitted individually, I will at least try to incorporate these (and your questions) conceptually into the next Wordspace article.
(Paul Pierog is a veteran New York City director of modern and classical theatre, and an alumnus of the Yale Drama School's MFA program.)