Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Heart and soul books on writing

Two of my favourite books on writing - Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1995), and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (1986) - fall into a category I call ‘heart and soul’ books on writing rather than those that focus on the more technical aspects of craft.

Each of these books has kept my spirits up when my motivation was flagging, when the odds of finishing something, let alone sending it off somewhere in the hope that it might be published seemed (and seems) insurmountable, and when I get stuck in the middle of a piece of work and can’t find a way through.

I must have read Bird by Bird, cover to cover, at least four times and dipped into various chapters and sections countless more. Lamott is a truly funny writer, especially when she shares not just her insights on writing but her own experiences. One of the things she does that I particularly like is refuse to buy into that elitist attitude or tone you sometimes get in books (or in writing courses) where the published writer/tutor preens in front of the unpublished and uses the reader/student as a mirror to polish their own superior status – something I have, unfortunately, experienced more than once. Lamott is quite the opposite. She is warm, generous, full of emotion, and truthful – writing is work, unlike lying on the beach which is recreation. And although not a technical book, it is still full of practical suggestions, like the chapters on short assignments and plot.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is probably more well known – it is really a series of meditations on different aspects on writing, often interspersed with quotes from Katagiri Roshi, a Zen Master Goldberg studied with. Writing as a Practice is one of the chapters and provides insight into her teaching and writing attitude and focus. She is quite different in tone to Lamott, yet they share something precious in common – the ability to cut through pretence and ego, to talk about the process and the work, and to address the reader/student/writer with respect.

A couple of my favourite quotes from Goldberg:

“Don’t worry about your talent or capability: that will grow as you practice.” (p30)

“Be willing to look at your work honestly. If something works, it works. If it doesn’t, quit beating an old horse. Go on writing. Something else will come up. There’s enough bad writing in the world. Write one good line, you’ll be famous. Write a lot of lukewarm pieces, you’ll put people to sleep.” (p161)

Both books are available on Amazon.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Actress, reviewer and writer Michelle Langstone talks about 'Escaping into Stories and Worlds.'

I’ve spent my entire life wanting to live inside books.  I became an actress so that I could escape into the stories and worlds that I loved.  I wanted to be the characters, really inhabit them, and feel how they felt, think their thoughts along with them. While I have always loved language it never really occurred to me until I turned thirty that perhaps I might try my hand at storytelling in a format other than acting.

I took six months away from acting last year to take a writing course with James George.  I thought I was leaving my profession behind, changing hats entirely. Actually what I discovered was that the two are one.  Or rather, that acting informs the way I write, and vice versa.  When I write (or try to write!), it is with my understanding of how to embody a character in the physical, with text as the leaping off point. I write from the same impulse that I act from – the feeling world. To date, my exploration of writing is very strongly through character driven narrative. I suppose that’s because I vaguely know how to do that, given that I spend my professional life creating character. What I’ve discovered, unexpectedly, is that learning to write is teaching me how to be a better actor.  Some of the same rules apply to both.

Something I have found very interesting in writing is how to find a voice.  I was surprised to discover that, much the same as with acting, I can’t write a thing, I can’t learn one single line of dialogue, until I can HEAR the way the character speaks.  By that I mean tone, I mean register, I mean rhythm. An example of this is that I recently completed filming a new show for South Pacific Pictures called The Almighty Johnson’s.  My character in that show is a very strong, very defiant and compelling woman.  She was a stretch for me, because she is fairly ferocious, and quite sexually forceful.  When I set to work on my scripts I found could not learn the lines because I could not hear her voice.  I had to experiment, to muck around with vocal resonance, and finally, to sink into a much lower register and feel the vibrating of sound lower in my body.  When I found that sound, the lines were in.

Similarly, in the Narrative Writing course last year, I was absolutely stuck and unable to write a thing until, during a class exercise, a voice popped into my head that I did not recognise.  I heard this voice, this sound unfamiliar, and I started to write for that voice. Or rather, I let that voice tell me a story, and I wrote it down the way that I heard it.  Now I think about a story I might like to write, and I wait to see who wants me to tell it - which character has something to say.

As an actor, I’m always looking to find a physicality that is specific to each role I play.  How my character holds herself, how she walks. Is she fast or slow?  Heavy or light?  Focused or unfocused? I like to find specific things that each of my characters do – my character in Almighty, for example, can hold a gaze like no character I have played before.  Her unflinching gaze was a way into a still and powerful physicality that was a key to finding her “front”.  In my writing I’m trying to find the little things in a character that may give them away, or inform the reader about them in a very specific way.  For example, in a piece I am working on now, a little boy whose story I’m telling likes to crouch.  He’s always crouching, and it’s for a number of reasons that become apparent as the narrative unravels.  It’s interesting to explore what happens when I put him in a situation where he can’t crouch, and see how he copes when his physicality is arrested.  Another character in that same story now has a swift deftness of physicality that I observed in another actor on set.  This actor is so light, he dances with his dialogue and with his body, and I’ve taken that trait and I’m trying to work it into the lightness of this character in my story, who is quite connected to musicality.

One of the exercises we learnt in class I have directly pinched for my acting.  “The Objects on a Mantelpiece” exercise is where you imagine a mantelpiece, and let your unconscious drop items onto it – like a pottery egg cup, a broken locket, one half of a torn photograph.  From there, you can embark on a story, either fleshing out the character that owns these objects, or telling a story involving them.  In The Almighty Johnson’s I sat and did this exercise as a way to flesh out the world and private life of my character.  I only had a small amount of back-story for her, based on what the writers had told me.  I wanted to make her as real as I could.  Her mantelpiece was interesting!  When I could see those objects and write how they belong in her world, how they make her feel, why she has them, where she got them – I began to feel fully dimensional.  It’s a great trick, and one I intend to use from now on.

Ten years ago I had a guest role on Shortland Street. It was one of my first professional jobs, and the dialogue coach showed me how to build a character arc for each episode, and how to plot the emotional journey for the character on it. This is helpful in shows like Shortland Street because you can pretty much guarantee you will be shooting your scenes out of order, and you don’t want to end up breaking down emotionally too soon, getting angry too soon, or just blowing your load before the appropriate build, pretty much.  It helps to plot an emotional course, to keep track, keep a reign on the beats of the story, and the beats of the character.  We learnt this in writing class too, and I’m now investing much more time in both my writing and my acting, to nut out the right course for navigation.

Happily, it also means I’m ok about writing an end before a beginning, in my stories, or writing a scene that belongs somewhere in an arc I haven’t created yet!

At the moment in my writing I’m thinking a lot about the feeling world of my characters and the room they leave inside themselves to let feeling grow and diminish.  I’ve always had a bad habit of cluttering up my acting with too much stuff.  I try to do too much, I’m too fast, and I try to cram too much in, too many facial expressions.  I do the same in writing and one thing I am learning in both areas is how to do less.  What one sentence can I write that can show the reader what I want them to see?  What one gesture, what one look can I give, what one sound can I make, that can convey everything I need to the viewer?

I’m simplifying.  I’m paring back, working on the maxim that less is more.  I know I have more in me, but if I can rein it in, and trust that everything is living inside the story, inside the role and inside me, then hopefully it will translate.  That’s about trusting in the world of the story.

As an actor I know how great it is to work with material loaded with subtext.  The emotional undercurrent, the true meaning, simmering away under the surface.  I’m trying to write like that.  I’m trying to imbue the dialogue in my stories with a greater subtext.  Stripping the dialogue back to the bare minimum, but loading it up, so the truth is shouting beneath the words.  I guess as an actor I’m always on the lookout for what my character is ACTUALLY saying, which is often working in opposition to what appears on the page.  The playwright Harold Pinter is a great example of subtext.  I did one of his plays – “The Lover”, earlier this year and it was fairly torturous trying to unravel the layers of subtext and truth.  What I discovered with Pinter’s writing is that in his characters, as in life, there is always ambiguity.  One choice is not the only choice; it is the thread
of many choices to be unravelled.

I’m thinking about that in my writing.  I’m resisting the urge to sew things up tidily; I’m leaving a bit of ambiguity, to allow the reader to stretch a little further to what the truth of the story may be for them.  We all resonate toward truth that is specific to our own concept of the world.  I’m learning slowly that I don’t have to tell anyone to how to feel in a story, they will absorb it and sift it through their own perspective. If I can reduce the clutter, the story is more accessible for them to reach.  It’s the same with acting – say the words, get out of the way, let the story come out, let the viewer come to meet it.  I think that has to do with trusting the writing.  I don’t trust my writing yet, but I know how it feels to hold a script that soars with excellent language.  I’m hoping I will know it in my own writing when I see it, if at all.

(Michelle has a weekly book review slot, Bookish and Awkward, on George FM.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Text and Subtext - what you read, what you read into what you read.

Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a very short story. Even by modern standards, this is short.

                        For Sale
            Baby Clothes
            Never Used

Look closely. Is that a story? How many characters are in that? Is there a plot? Is there subtext? 

Yes it's a story, and there's a vast amount of story in those few words. The text is tiny, the subtext is vast. Questions come at you from all over, and questions are the beginnings of story.

There's a sketch by Rembrandt that works in a similar way:

Is she sick/dying? Is she in terror? Has she awoken from a nightmare?

Note how her features are clearly defined but the world around her is left wild, almost dreamlike. There's something unsettling in the combination of the background's spareness and its boldness. Almost a violence. The visual storytelling text gives the viewer the beginning, the rest is for you to discover and interpret.

(Hemingway's typewriter at his former house in Key West, Florida, pictured with its current owner. Perhaps contemplating that 3rd rewrite and finally solving that transitional passage after the second act turning point and how to get Uncle Herbert back from Alaska in time for the climactic car chase. Either that or 'Where's the chicken?')

Omniscient and/or multiple First Person Point of View and Voice

I notice more and more examples now of stories being told in multiple first person point of view. In the AUT Masters of Creative Writing class I mentored and taught on this year there was an excellent example by one of the students, where she used this form to bring out multiple perceptions which gave the story as a whole many possible realities as there was no one voice or perspective a reader could take as some kind of objective truth.

This is not a new form though it’s becoming more prevalent as authors break further away from the traditional omniscient narrator -  a single entity and presence in the story (though not an individualized character in it) who knows and has the power to tell all. Omniscient is one of the oldest Points of View, derived from folk tales and mythology and the work of the Epic Poets. Originally along the lines of:

Oh gather around me men of the land and I shall tell thee a tale of triumph and tragedy.

Or more recently something like:

Spofforth was an irascible boy, as such boys – as we will discover – are want to be.

These openings are really almost a way of saying:

Once upon a time…

The examples (the first two poorly written, by my own hand) above are as much examples of Omniscient Voice as they are Point of View. An omniscient voice feels like a human presence, a perspective, with biases and quirks and foibles and fixations. It’s palpable, not neutral. If you want neutral of voice, go for Third Person Limited (note my post on the work of Kent Haruf.) Not all stories that are omniscient in the scope of their perspective are omniscient of voice. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace with its 500 named (!) characters has to be omniscient point of view by default, because of its sheer size, but the voice is calm, restrained, often quite objective, doesn’t really sound like a palpable overlord presence, but more like the voices of many of the individual characters.

Modern readers by and large seem happier to juggle multiple truths, and try and look for their own truth somewhere in those multiples. This could be because of the influence of other media like cinema where the viewer is right on the edge of the scene, almost with their toes touching the edges of the story’s ocean, and have to find their own way in the scene by the clues laid down by visual symbols, dialogue and the subtext they sense beneath and around the text.

Omniscient narration hasn’t died out altogether and won’t. It’s still popular in magic realist novels, in sagas with great scope of time and place, often in Fantasy works. Satire is a natural home of omniscient, where the narrator’s worldview, usually mirroring the author’s, is critical to the tartness of the story and its context. In satire the author is usually trying to make a point, often ironic, or by using black comedy. The Harry Potter books are an excellent example of contemporary omniscient. Others would be: the work of Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. In Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude there are passages where the narrative perspective shifts into several different characters’ perspectives and thoughts in a single sentence. That’s because the thoughts are never really the characters’, but the narrator’s perception of them. To be honest it can be a basket of handgrenades in the hands of the unwary. Not everyone can do it, not everyone enjoys reading it. Sometimes because the voice ‘nags’, sometimes because the omniscient narrator often goes too far in explaining and leaves no room for the reader to come to their understanding. Omniscient can all too easily slip into:

                And the moral of this story is…
Multiple first person is omniscient’s polar opposite. There is no promise of a master position, or meta-knowledge. Everything is individual perception, brought out in individualized vernacular voice. The reader gains the position (to a degree) of the omniscient narrator only after taking in the totality of the story.  Even then the inherent ambiguity of hearing the ‘truth’ from several biased sources leaves that process of understanding the story’s themes and meanings to the reader. 

Examples of excellent work in multiple first person would be: William Faulkner, ‘As I lay Dying’ written way back in 1930. Graham Swift, ‘Last Orders’ from 1995, Junot Diaz’ ‘The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,’ from 2007, and a fine example from Aotearoa, Lisa Cherrington’s ‘The People Faces,’ from 2004. 
 Things to consider if you’re thinking of trying omniscient.
  • Do you have a single storytelling voice that’s interesting, perhaps idiosyncratic (but not to the point of annoyance) that you can sustain over a large group of characters?
  • Will the master storyteller’s voice actually enhance your story – to the degree that first or third person (limited/subjective) wouldn’t?
  • Are you sure you’re doing it for the good of the story and not just because you want to play God?
Things to consider if you’re thinking of trying multiple first person:

  • Can you find differences in the individual characters’ vernacular voices?
  • Do you want to have potential multiplicity of perception and meaning?
  • Are you comfortable that no one entity will likely possess any degree of objective truth?
Both omniscient and multiple first person can add richness and depth to a story – in very different ways. As an exercise, if you’re backgrounding a short story, say 3000 words, try the first few paragraphs or pages in both omniscient and multiple first person. The obvious difference is that – in terms of character – omniscient is writing from the outside in, multiple first person is from the inside out. See which way serves the story. You’ll discover different things, in different ways. Think of those discoveries from both angles, how it works for you and how you think it’ll work for your reader. 


Friday, December 10, 2010

Reading, writing and dreaming

I discovered the following comments written by Lindsay Clarke a while ago and return to them often - among other things, they remind me of the importance of 'show don't tell' and how that fundamental technique connects the reader to the writer and the story.

"Reading and dreaming have much in common. In both we generate images out of a limited visual field. These images move and disturb us because we are immediately involved with them... yet they arrive without overt explanations and require us to work for meaning." (p 257)

"...dreams remain a great mystery, but their vocabulary of images seems to allow the oldest, pre-verbal parts of the brain to speak to the neocortex, thus opening a channel of communication between the conscious and unconscious minds. By flexing all the inward senses of the imagination, fiction can tap us into that hotline...good writing literally works like a dream...we are set free to dream the story ourselves." (p 258)

Both quotes come from Clarke's chapter, "Going the last Inch: Some Thoughts on Showing and Telling", in The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Writers Share Advice and Exercises for Poetry and Prose, (eds) Julia Bell and Paul Magrs, Macmillan, 2001.

Traditional Folk Music - A stellar cast of folk singers sing 'Wild Mountain Thyme.'

Folk music and writing...

The weekend of January 28-31 will see the 2011 version of the Auckland Folk Festival. This annual event has been going since the early 1970's and showcases folk music and the many forms of narrative storytelling contained within. The festival features traveling musicians from Europe, the U.S.A. and New Zealand and many other points. It's music at its purest and well worth a look. We've made an annual pilgrimage (the most appropriate word in the circumstances) to the event for years. Keep checking the website for dates/times/line-ups.

Folk music has a whakapapa stretching back to oral storytelling and the earliest forms of music that cataloged and celebrated early peoples' lives, in both pragmatic (birth, hunting, family) and spiritual/mythological ways. I recall seeing buffalo hides in the museum in Calgary, Canada with artistic renderings of symbols of the rites and rituals of people's entire lives, created by members of the Blackfoot nation. Folk music also carries this breadth and intimacy of narrative.

Folk music has always been a tool for bringing together communities, and has such has been used by working class people the world over. You can listen to folk musicians from Central Otago and hear Celtic origins, both melodic and in storytelling style. Appalachian folk music from the U.S.A. is filled with the sounds of Ireland, Scotland and England. Early 20th Century folk musician Dock Boggs is now recognized as a progenitor of American Folk, Country and Blues, and by extension - modern rock. That's a lot of different roads for one ol' coal miner from the Virginia mountains.

There has always been a crossover and cross-pollination between folk music and writing. In the 1930's in the U.S.A. for example novelists John Steinbeck, photographer Dorothea Lange and folk singer Woody Guthrie were all telling stories of the plight of the rural poor drifting westward in the Great Depression.

Dorothea Lange's famous photograph 'Migrant Mother' (pictured - right) helped raise awareness of the plight of the migrant workers across America, as did Guthrie's musical ballads and Steinbeck's writing.

Many novelists in various cultures write community derived narratives which are true in design and effect to the fundamentals of folk music. (Stories of family/village/provincial survival, working songs, parent/child songs to be handed down, songs of history and genealogy.) Writers whose narratives for me are reminiscent of folk music would be: Kent Haruf, Toni Morrison, Patricia Grace, Ben Okri, Roddy Doyle, even someone like Raymond Carver.

For me, one of the basics statements of folk music and any other form of narrative that carries its breath would be something like:  this is my stake in the ground. I have survived to write this. For this moment, if in no other, I was here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Writing Groups - Some tips for effective Critiquing and Organizing

Re Trisha's post below regarding Writers Groups. 

Writers Groups are a valuable resource and an antidote to the feeling a writer sometimes gets of being stuck on a solitary road. Writing for others to read is by definition a communal act, with the writing coming alive in the reading, in the communicating of ideas and experience. So here are a few thoughts from experiences in writers groups, my own and those shared by contacts. I've sorted them under three categories.

•    For the person critiquing
•    For the person being critiqued
•    For the group in general

For the person critiquing:

•    Critique the writing, not the writer. Sometimes the two are inseparable, that’s true but even so, aim your feedback at the text. Talk about the text as a thing in and of itself, even if you feel that speaks to the writer’s background and philosophy as well. If the text is the focus you can be open and honest and critical about it. You’ll never get any traction in a group by critiquing someone’s worldview, cosmology, or feelings
•    You can be both objective and subjective – it’s okay. Really. What the piece makes you feel is just as important as what it makes you think. Remember to make it clear which facet you’re speaking from. E.g. ...this piece makes me feel uneasy... Say why you feel that is, or if you don’t know (as sometimes happens), say you don’t know, but it does make you feel uneasy. It’s your opinion and you have a right to it. It might also reflect what audiences at large may feel when they read it. Always keep aggression or sarcasm out of it though. Critique unto others as you would have them critique unto you
•    If you come upon a teaching point, say you’ve done some serious research and learning in Point of View, or Narrative Structure, keep it specific to the text being critiqued then expand into your wider knowledge if asked to. Don’t patronize the writers, or assume you know far more than they do. Make your points quietly, succinctly.
•    Feel free to suggest changes – they might be good ones. I’ve heard it said you should just critique, not suggest, but in a peer-to-peer group context critiquing could and often should include alternatives and suggestions. You're there to help each other make your work more effective. Nobody has to take suggestions, but all should listen and consider. Make sure if you suggest changes it's clear that they are suggestions, not commands. Don't do the ...What you should do...
•    Get over yourself. Yes you have an opinion or maybe a pet peeve, but don’t bang on and on about it every meeting, to the point where you’re just repeating yourself. That’s badgering, not critiquing. I’m talking mainly about getting too fixated on letting the world know what your opinion is, not so much about the opinion itself. If you have a serious problem with adverbs or fancy attributions then say so, that's a valuable technique point, but remember to talk about why, pointing out specific examples of where and why you see them as weakening the text.
•    Re the point above – be as exact as you can. Instead of saying ...well I can’t stand flowery language....point to specific words or phrases you define as flowery and what you mean by that and how you feel that negatively impacts on the writing/reading experience. I read a line in a book once that said ‘I repeat,’ repeated Alex.' That’s a tautology, clunky, and possibly unnecessary all in one hit. Be exact in your analysis.
•    Remember you have the breadth of the writing world at your disposal. If you have an issue with a particular technical point in a writer’s text, consider bringing an example from an effective use of the issue you’re discussing and quote from it, by way of illustration.
•    Avoid sweeping generalities. ... Well, I don’t really like women's fiction...well I suppose that’s the kind of thing the blue rinse set would like...etc. That's too general to be helpful, and a bit of a cop-out, and can be offensive as well. Stories are individual entities, read by individual human beings, both within wider contexts. Speak to the text and the individual at hand.  

For the person being critiqued:

•    Listen with intent, with your writer’s mind primed to learn. Be careful of just sitting with your foot tapping, waiting for a break in their analysis to then just justify yourself or what you’ve done. Remember, they’re responding to your text as written, not everything you know about your text and your totality of ideas and character insight.
•    Remember that the responders are your first readers, and most of the things they cover will be seen by your readers down the track (buyers, publishers, agents. ) What they’re saying is most valuable because they’re saying it now, while you’re still working on it and can use the feedback to improve your work
•    Sometimes critiquers may be too subjective and be speaking from personal biography or pet fixations or things that – for their own reasons – disturb them. Just listen, thank them and move on. Don’t harangue them or try to change their world view. It isn’t worth it.
•    Don’t lurch. You may well be centered in your story and have a sense of its inner emotional core and the core of your characters. Or you may not. But don’t lurch way off in a different direction, change your protagonist from male to female, make your librarian a gun-toting kick-arse, change your 40 somethings to teens because ‘teen stuff sells at the moment’, just because someone says so. Consider suggestions. Consider them. But ask yourself, what is your story about, why do you want to tell this character’s story, who are they? You own that. Often problems are smaller and much more technically based than you might think, and the answer isn’t wholesale change. Remember it’s your story, even if you appreciate your audience’s needs it’s still your story, at least until you sign it off and it goes out into the wider world.

For the Group:

•    Appoint a timekeeper for each meeting – rotate the task if necessary. Divide the time you can afford to spend at the meetings by the number of writers who’ve submitted, then stick to that allotment. Be very careful of ‘dawdle then rush’ syndrome, where the first couple of critiques are expansive, then (because you’re running out of time) rush the last couple. The later writers will not be happy – with good reason. In the meetings separate the chat from the critiquing. Use informal chat to relax you for the focused work of writing analysis and discussion, don't let chat seep into the writing discussion. You don't want people crying off because the meetings have got too long. 
•    Get to know each other and get comfortable through the process of looking at and talking about the work submitted. Don’t wait for trust and comfort to develop. This is crucial. You might wait a very long time for the magical moment when you’re all comfortable enough with each other to critique honestly and openly. It's an ongoing process, and only becomes more effective through focused, work-oriented practice.
•    Look for a mix of preferred styles, of backgrounds and knowledge bases (unless you’re genre specific as a group – e.g. romance, thrillers)
•    Everyone’s opinion has equal value, but not necessarily equal weight or insight. That’s just reality.
•    Encourage everyone to do their share of the work. Be responsible and pro-active and make sure you don't attend looking to get feedback then make some excuse as to why you haven’t given it in return (too busy, their writing is too different/genre specific for you to comment on.) Sometimes you will be too busy, that's life. If you are, opt out of a meeting or feedback cycle. But not consistently.
•    Be careful of anyone wanting to take over the group, and remodel it in their image. Not every group (most groups in fact) needs a leader
•    Do not allow excess volume or aggression any place. People are passionate about writing, sure, but be aware of boundaries. A serious insight would still be a serious insight even if it was whispered, or written in very small text. Police this, as a group, be honest and frank about it.
•    If you’re planning on meeting face to face, as opposed to entirely online, then set a workable time frame for submissions. Say 2 weeks before the meeting. One week minimum. Give everyone time to do a close reading and formulate a considered, informed analysis.

You'll learn as you go, and learn to make adjustments when necessary. Remember that group members are humans just like you, and both their text and their beings are worthy of your respect. As peers, part of that respect is a responsibility to help them. Often with group critiquing there's a new or extra insight that no one person (including the original writer) walked into the room with.

The whole process isn't a perfect science, and you may have your ups and downs, but peer-to-peer critiquing is a very productive way to improve your writing and the writing of those in your group.

Puppet story - key writing elements

The piece with the puppet below is a great example of several storytelling elements.

  • Suspension of disbelief. You know the puppeteer walking alongside is operating an inanimate object, but your imagination begins to flesh out character. 
  • Show - don't tell. There's no verbal narration, you come to know the story by what you see, and the connections you make in your head. Connections to character insight, to a wider sense of what does it really mean to be alive. The more symmetry in the gesture, e.g. the head turns to point towards the hand, which we see as the puppet 'looking' at his hands, the deeper the illusion of reality. If it becomes emotionally true for the viewer, then it is no longer (in any meaningful way) an illusion.
  • What is most personal is most universal. We all yearn for freedom, for aliveness, so see that yearning in the movements of the puppet.
  • The relationship between text and subtext. We see the puppet move, with his newfound freedom, but then realize that he realizes that he really has neither movement nor freedom. That's a human moment, and makes us wonder if his choice would be our choice. What is driving his choice, what forces are driving our choices. 
I've seen less story in entire cinematic movies than those few minutes of illusion of reality.