On Taming the Wire

Feb 22, 2021

By Christine Carron

In 2010, I got to attend Tightrope! A three-day workshop led by Philippe Petit. Yes, the same Philippe Petit who walked between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974. There were five of us in the class. No hiding in the back. I was getting on the wire. Slightly problematic as I have a not insignificant fear of heights. I can’t even watch some of the scenes in The Walk. All my limbs go to jelly if I try. To this day, I don’t know what even possessed me to apply for the workshop in the first place. 

Yet, in affirmation for anyone called to bravely fling themselves into an experience that scares them, that workshop remains one of the wildest (and coolest) experiences I’ve ever had.  It was three days of non-stop learning from a consummate artist; a master craftsman. Along with actually walking the wire, I learned about anchor points, cavaletti, and knots; the rigging tips Petit learned from Rudolf “Papa Rudy” Omankowsky; I even noted down what he called a “genius” tip on how to stop a rope from fraying: burn the rope tip, take a small piece of folded cardboard, use the cardboard to put out flame, and then shape the tip of rope perfectly.

I have no idea what I will ever do with that last bit of knowledge, but it delights me to no end that I have it.

Exuberant attention to all aspects of craft was one of my key takeaways from that time with Petit. And much of how he spoke about wire walking was inspiring for any art form. One of my favorite concepts: taming the wire. The walker’s ability to control and manage the three natural movements of the wire: swaying side to side; vibrating up and down; and torque.

As writers, i.e., story tamers, we manage a story’s movement. Story naturally moves forward, yet like the wire, sometimes a story wants to sway, vibrate, and torque. And we need to know how to harness each of those.

A story swaying sideways to a new detail or dialogue beat builds richness and context. A story vibrates when the emotions (inner plot) and action (outer plot) rise and fall and fall and rise, not only from start to finish, but from scene to scene and chapter to chapter. That ever-present vibration of “what next” propels a reader forward.

And finally: torque. My favorite. Those moments that the best story tamers grab hold of and twist. Anything from punching up the tension of argument, to softening into the delicacy of touch, to amping up the despair of a failure. Torque moments are the ones that if the writer takes them just far enough, sits on them just long enough, will ratchet up the story’s potency beyond measure. They are the heartbeats of a story and also the heart-hits—the moments that will make the reader gasp. Why? Because they are no longer just reading the story, they are feeling it. They are walking the wire with you. 

Sway. Vibrate. Torque. Have at it, Story Tamer!

The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week

  1. Treat yourself to an inspirational, pandemic-friendly artist date (or two.) Watch Man on Wire or The Walk.
  2. Take one of your favorite books and see if you can find a place where the writer lets the story sway sideways, vibrate with rising and falling action, and where the writer torques a moment for everything it’s worth.
  3. Find a torque moment in your work-in-progress. Read it aloud and listen with both your head and your heart to decide if you took it far enough, sat on it long enough.

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