In writing, we look for threshold moments – these moments of cusp or transition. The Finnish writer Tove Jansson – creator of the Moomins and writer of great wisdom – wrote about these moments as borders. As an island dweller, she spent a good deal of time thinking about geographical and topological borders – the threshold between land and sea, or between mountain and valley. These threshold moments are the ones that are full of possibility, full of hope or longing.
Jansson wrote, “Twilight is the border between day and night, and he shore if the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.”
We often forget to notice these borders. In writing, this means that a moment can arrive too suddenly, with too little attention. In life, failing to notice these borders is a loss of attention – which means we can veer off the path.
When I mentor writers, we often work together to notice the threshold moments within a chapter, within a scene – these are the moments just before everything changes. The moment just before a kiss, just before something is spoken, the precipice before death or life. Often these moments get rushed in writing. Try to notice them yourself, in your own writing and to give them more attention.
This territory of borders or thresholds is rich and lovely, in writing and in life, and can often be found at the beginning and ends of things – the firsts and lasts, as I like to think of them.
Take some time today to reflect on some of these border moments, these thresholds, in your writing. If you are writing a memoir, allow yourself today to slow down and reflect on the firsts and lasts – the first meeting, the last farewell…
When I started working on my memoir, Fury, in earnest – when I allowed myself to acknowledge what I was writing – I found myself circling the world of the trawler, unsure. I was failing to give the day to day reality of being on a working boat, stuck at sea. This was partly because when I remembered the world of the Ocean Thief, I remembered it as an endless litany of days, all merging into each other. I had to pause and remind myself of the borders. What was it like, I wondered, that moment just before I stepped onto the boat? What was my first sighting? What was that threshold of land and sea like, the moment when the earth disappears and there is only ocean and the far horizon? And, later, what was it like – remember it – that moment just before I left the boat forever, while the police lights flashed on the dock below me?
Firsts and lasts. They’re as good a guide as any.
If you’re writing a novel, or fiction – let yourself be led by creating some first and last moments. If you find that you’re writing your character in circles, or you’re unsurprised by what they’re offering, try digging into the first and last moments. Ask them: what was the first day in the prison like? What happened, the first time you saw Mr Rochester? Can you remember, the very first time you heard Mr Darcy’s name? What about the last time you saw the orphanage?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- The moment before the first kiss
- The moment before the first declaration of love..
- The moment before the last embrace…
- The moment before graduation…
- The moment before the final goodbye…
- The moment before
- Some other firsts and lasts
- The first day of school
- The last day of work
- The first contraction
- The last breath
- First drive
- Last walk
Allow yourself to dwell on the thresholds today, before you cross over.