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 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

As you work toward vertical movement in your writing, we will read three stories in The Writer's Presence by authors whose work exemplifies this movement.  Pay attention to places where the author is simply telling us what happened next—and then, and then (the action)—and 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 while horizontal writing suggests what, vertical writing suggests why.  It is not so much the what that matters, but why the author acts and thinks they way he or she does. It is this combination of action and thought that defines our best stories.

Giving yourself over to the simple narrative, the linear progression, is a kind of submission to the laws of the universe, in some ways.  To EXIST is to abide by linear laws; to LIVE is to exist inside the spatial, and the story must bring those two experiences together in a horizontal/vertical way.  In my mind, this is the challenge facing you as a writer of not only stories, but also as a writer of research essays and argument.

Vertical movement expands, interrupts, deepens, slows, adds texture and space to an otherwise linear narrative.  It's in the vertical movement that the "why"--rather than the "what"--of the story exists.

Workk Consulted: Julia Kristeva's adaptations of Bakhtin's spatial tropes in two early essays, "Word, Dialogue, and Novel" (1966) and "The Bounded Text" (1966-1967), both of which are included in her collection Desire in Language. She introduces her concept of intertextuality and advocates a reading practice based in the "spatialization" of the word along vertical and horizontal axes in an intertextual grid.