The Art of Geometry


          I’ve never been a whiz at math.  I take after my father, who once said, “There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can’t.”  In my family, my mother kept the checkbook.  In junior high and high school, I was fortunate enough to have math teachers who, through patience and compassion, managed to teach me enough of the basics to get by.  In college, I took geology to avoid freshman algebra.  I know more about rocks than numbers, which isn’t much.

            So it was a surprise to me in high school that I discovered a love for geometry.  I might be a semi-klutz at equations, but I was good with shapes.  My teacher wasn’t surprised; geometry isn’t really math, she said, it’s logic.  It’s the way things fit together, the beauty of lines and angles in time and space.  Sure, there are numbers involved, but they are numbers you can see and feel, that you can push and pull and twist into fascinating objects.  The limits of geometry are imagination.

            When I began to think about how I do this storytelling thing I do, it occurred to me that part of it is geometry.  A story has lines and angles and shapes that exist in time and space – geometry as architecture. 

I start with a central character I believe in, and that’s the foundation.  I surround that person with other characters, some of which are actually places (a town, for instance, can be a character in my story).  I put the people in a particular time and place, give them a dilemma, and turn them loose to bump up against each other and make sparks.  Things begin to happen, to move in directions.  I’m building a house, with walls and doors and windows, floors and roofs, furniture and interior design, clothes in the closet and toys on the floor, all of the things that make the house a home where people live.

I don’t know how the whole thing will look when I start, or really even while I’m building.  I know a few things that might serve as signposts when I’ve reached a certain point.  But I have to be open to possibility and serendipity.  When I finish, there it is: a geometric shape, something like no other, fashioned out of my over-active imagination.  Each reader, looking at my geometry from a special and unique angle, will see something a little different.  Hopefully, all will see something artful – a memorable thing or two, and the geometry that helps it hang together.

Robert Inman’s novels are available on on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo. 

The Art of Transparency

       When I was in graduate school eons ago, my fiction teacher, the late novelist Barry Hannah, was kind enough to say my work showed some promise.  “When you learn the big tricks,” he said, “you’ll do okay.”

       “What are the big tricks?” I asked.

       “You have to learn those for yourself.”

       “How do you learn them?”

       “By doing the work.”

       I’ve done a good bit of the work since then, and I’ve learned a couple of big tricks.  The biggest, I’ve decided, is learning to trust my readers.  It sounds simple, but it’s not.

       I have to see a scene in my own mind before I can write about it – what the place looks like, who’s there, how they move about, how they interact, what they say.  The challenge is putting what I see on paper so you’ll see something similar when you read the words.  The more I try to describe, the more I inevitably burden the story with so much verbiage that it sinks of its own weight.  The words get in the way.  The big trick is deciding what not to say.

            There’s a sort of magic that transpires between writer and reader, an alchemy that occurs when two imaginations meet.  If I write a book and a thousand people read it, I’ve really written a thousand books, because each reader brings a unique and special consciousness to the process.  And that makes each reading experience special and unique.

            I constantly remind myself that I don’t have to do all the work, and the more I do, the more I’m likely to get in the way.  All I need is a few well-chosen words to set the reader’s imagination in motion.  If I write “cowboy,” you’ll provide your own image.  It won’t be the cowboy I see, but that’s fine.  Your cowboy is just as good as mine, probably better.  My job is to be transparent, to stay out of the way so you get right to the cowboy.  It’s the cowboy’s story, and I’m just there to be a conduit.  If you hear me, I’ve failed.

      Another of my grad school professors, the poet Tom Rabbitt, said there are three kinds of writing:

  • Art -- we know what that is when we see it.  The characters and their story leap off the page and grab us by the soul.        
  • Artsy -- words begin to get in the way, a sure sign the writer is becoming enamored of his own verbal virtuosity.        
  • Artsy-fartsy – this guy is screaming, Look Ma, see how clever I am!

     When I finish a manuscript, the first thing I do is go back and ruthlessly slash modifiers and florid excesses of description.  I may need them in the first draft to help me visualize, but in sober reflection, I realize that for my readers, they’re largely unnecessary and get in the way of the story.  I dang sure don’t want to leave any artsy-fartsy, and I want artsy held to a bare minimum.  If what results is something vaguely similar to art, I’m a happy guy.

     Next time: another big trick: geometry.

Robert Inman’s novels are available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo.