How to use Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” to strengthen your own writing

The story after the excercise

The story after the exercise

A blazer from Reitmans can never be compared to the timeless beauty of a Dior couture suit. The former is common and disposable, the latter, immortal. But what makes the difference? Honesty.

The skilled and practiced hands of the atelier’s master seamstresses are not enough. They are helpless without true, precise measurements of a client’s body. To create a lasting piece of art one needs technique, yes, but also an open honesty about the human beneath the garment, portrait, or story. Only then can certain aspects be exaggerated and/or minimized according to the will of the artist.

Franz Kafka was a self admitted hypochondriac with Daddy issues, but he was also a genius at writing the human condition. The surrealism of his stories, just like any Jean Paul Gautier gown, is successful because it is structured on honest human underpinnings. In “The Metamorphosis” (man wakes up as bug… trouble ensues) Kafka brings a family of individuals to life through the careful layering of specific physical, psychological, and behavioral details.

It is these details that give his writing strength and universality. For any writer, the question of what to put in versus what to leave out is always daunting. Why not learn from the best? Take a pen and highlighter to your favourite story and note how the characters are built. What do we find out, and when? What flowers are in the window box? How long has it been since J—– washed her hair? This exercise will make you more aware of using detail in your own writing.

But always remember, even if your characters hold the measuring tape loose around their bustlines and pull it tight around their waists and hips, it’s up to you to sneak their true measurements into your text. Of course, the only way to do that is to start being honest about your own.

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