I told Miyazaki I love the "gratuitous motion" in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.Ma. Emptiness. But not a meaningless emptiness. On the contrary, this "emptiness" is swollen with meaning, with life, with a purpose which is not dictated by the rushing helter-skelter of the artist's idea of the plot. This emptiness brings dimension and life to the character, because it makes that character's life so like our own.
"We have a word for that in Japanese," [Miyazaki] said. "It's called ma. Emptiness. It's there intentionally."
[Miyazaki] clapped his hands three or four times. "The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it's just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time, you just get numb."I hear a lot of people tell writers to cut any text that doesn't progress the plot - and in large measure that advice is absolutely spot on. You shouldn't fill your manuscript with unnecessary trips to unnecessary places, you shouldn't drag the narration out when you could have just split the section and picked back up where you needed to be. But I do feel there is a time and a place for the "emptiness" to descend on the plot, if only for a moment. Sit still for a moment. Sigh. Look at something which has nothing to do with the narrow tunnel of the plot: it gives breathing space, it gives dimension, it gives the sense even for the characters that life goes on despite one's own immediate battle.
If you stay true to joy and astonishment and empathy you don't have to have violence and you don't have to have action. [The audience will] follow you.As a descriptive matter of course in Talldogs the other day, I sat one of my characters down with a book. It is the sort of thing he would do. I pulled in a jumble of plot tension and progression, and after that, as my characters were sorting things out, I had my main character ask the other what book he was reading. The book has nothing to do with the plot, but the book has to do with their lives, with dimension, and technically that conversation about that otherwise meaningless book is emptiness. It is only a small piece of emptiness, not enough to bore the reader, and yet I find it of an utmost importance because it gives breathing space. Without it, the plot would be two-dimensional and the characters would exist solely for the purpose of "fixing" the plot's problems. But that is not what they exist for. They exist because I made them, they have lives because I wanted them to, and I give them dimension because I love them. I let them have their breathing space. I let them have the emptiness. I have already seen in readers a response of refreshment from this imitation of life in art, so I am not afraid to use it.
What about you? Do you use ma?