Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ma, Zen, and Economy

Kevyn Winkless describes his editing style and keys in on an important realization:
Ma is the Japanese art of empty spaces. Most often encountered in interior decorating, architecture, and of course visual arts the concept of Ma is difficult to explain, easy to see - just look at Hasegawa Tohaku's famous 6 panel screen Pine Trees:
Black ink. White space. 
Hasegawa gives us as much with the space he leaves blank as with the lines he actually painted. He fills that entire canvas with nothing, and it's incredibly evocative. You can see an entire world here, even though he has merely depicted a few trees, and not whole trees at that. 
He doesn't fill the space. He outlines it. He draws us into it. He makes us fill it. 
So I learned the Ma of poetry on Twitter. 
And then I tried something more challenging: fiction. 
Fiction is a different beast, I hear you say. Fiction needs all those words. Words is how fiction works. 
You're not wrong. But when you start to grapple with Ma you learn something Zen masters have known for centuries: 
Words are liars.
Yes, the words are important: no words = no story. 
But the words aren't the story - not really. The words are the frame of the story. The story, such as it is, really exists in the reader's mind, just the same as with poetry. 
You have only a few thousand words with the readers. Don't try to force everything into their minds. You can't anyway, and the effort will leave you both frustrated and bereft. 
No: sketch the outline of the story, show the reader the glittering edges and the mysterious silhouettes of your world and let them fill in the blank space in their mind.
Creativity isn't always powered by possibilities, but by limitations.

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