Writing Body Narrative

The Eckleburg Workshops

A narrative based in the bodily experiences—physical, emotional and more—of a central subject (personal essay or poetry) or character (fiction). Body narrative is a growing trend in not only artistic venues but also medicinal. “Developed at Columbia University in 2000, ‘Narrative Medicine’ fortifies clinical practice with the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved by stories of illness. We realize that the care of the sick unfolds in stories, and we recognize that the central event of health care is for a patient to give an account of self and a clinician to skillfully receive it.” (Columbia University Program of Narrative Medicine)


A story, whether fictional or true and in prose or verse, related by a narrator or narrators (rather than acted out onstage, as in drama). A frame narrative is a narrative that recounts the telling of another narrative or story that thus ‘frames’ the inner or framed narrative. An example is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ in which an anonymous third-person narrator recounts how an old sailor comes to tell a young wedding guest the story of his adventures at sea. (Norton).

Narrative Lengths

Novel — Over 70,000 words

Novella — 17,500 to 70,000 words

Novelette — 7,500 to 17,500 words

Short Story — 1,000 to 7,500 words

Short Short Story — Under 1,000 words

Microfiction — Generally, 500 words or less (Some editors will consider everything 1,000 words or less to be a short short story or flash fiction. Some editors will consider a microfiction to be 100 words or less. There is a great deal of variance between editors. If in doubt, simply ask the particular editor.)

Narrative Forms

Novel: a long work of fiction, typically published (or at least publishable) as a standalone book; though most novels are written in prose, those written as poetry are called verse novels. A novel (as opposed to a short story) conventionally has a complex plot and, often, at least one subplot, as well as a fully realized setting and a relatively large number of characters. One important novelistic subgenre is the epistolary novel—a novel composed entirely of letters written by its characters. Another is the bildungsroman.novellaa work of prose fiction that falls somewhere in between a short story and a novel in terms of length, scope, and complexity.

Novella: it can be, and has been, published either as a book in its own right or as part of a book that includes other works. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is an example.

[Novelette: Shorter than a novella, longer than a short story.]

Short Story: a relatively short work of prose fiction that, according to Edgar Allan Poe, can be read in a single sitting of two hours or less and works to create “a single effect.” Two types of short story are the initiation story and the short short story. (Also sometimes called microfiction, a short short story is, as its name suggests, a short story that is especially brief; examples include Linda Brewer’s “20/20” and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.”)

[Short Short Story: a short story that is approximately 1,000 words or less. Often, expositional attributes are cut or shortened.]

[Microfiction: a short story that is approximately less than 500 words. Often expositional attributes are cut or shortened. Time lapses will be briefer and the reader will be asked to invest far more imaginative response. Micro fictions are often close to poetry and can sometimes be interchangeable with prose poetry.]

Body Narrative Writing Exercise

Think of a time when you were most ill. This illness could be bodily, emotional or both. Write a personal essay in first person pov about the experiences of this illness. This account might be realism or even surrealism, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s autobiographical short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Submit Your Work for Individualized Feedback

Please use Universal Manuscript Guidelines when submitting: .doc or .docx, double spacing, 10-12 pt font, Times New Roman, 1 inch margins, first page header with contact information, section breaks “***” or “#.”


The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the PresentEric Kandel.

A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.

“Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.

Cognitive Neuropsychology Section, Laboratory of Brain and Cognition.

Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Lynne Truss.

The Elements of Style. William Strunk. 

New Oxford American DictionaryEdited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.

The Norton Anthology of World LiteratureMartin Puchner, et al.

The Norton Introduction to PhilosophyGideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.

Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.

Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.

from “Blackness” by Jamaica Kincaid

from “Blackness” in At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid

How soft is the blackness as it falls. It falls in silence and yet it is deafening, for no other sound except the blackness falling can be heard. The blackness falls like soot from a lamp with an untrimmed wick. The blackness is visible and yet it is invisible, for I see that I cannot see it. The blackness fills up a small room, a large field, an island, my own being. The blackness cannot bring me joy but often I am made glad in it. The blackness cannot be separated from me but often I can stand outside it. The blackness is not the air, though I breathe it. The blackness is not the earth, though I walk on it. The blackness is not water or food, though I drink and eat it. The blackness is not my blood, though it flows through my veins. The blackness enters my many-tiered spaces and soon the significant word and event recede and eventually vanish: in this way I am annihilated and my form becomes formless and I am absorbed into a vastness of free-flowing matter. In the blackness, then, I have been erased. I can no longer say my own name. I can no longer point to myself and say “I.” In the blackness my voice is silent. First, then, I have been my individual self, carefully banishing randomness from my existence, then I am swallowed up in the blackness so that I am one with it….

About Jamaica Kincaid

While working as an au pair, Kincaid enrolled in evening classes at a community college. After three years, she resigned from her job to attend Franconia College in New Hampshire on a full scholarship. However, Kincaid dropped out of school after one year and returned to New York. In New York City, she started writing for a teenage girls’ magazine and changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid in 1973 when her writing was first published. She described changing her name as “a way for [her] to do things without being the same person who couldn’t do them—the same person who had all these weights”. On her choice of first and last name, Kincaid explained that Jamaica is an English corruption of what Columbus called Xaymaca as well as it is the part of the world that she is from and Kincaid appeared to go well with Jamaica. Kincaid became a writer for The Village Voice and Ingénue. Kincaid’s short fiction appeared in The Paris Review and The New Yorker, where her novel Lucy was originally serialized.

About Eckleburg

What others are saying about Eckleburg
The most exciting and adventurous and gutsiest new magazine I’ve seen in years.” Stephen Dixon
Refreshing… edgy… classic… compelling.” Flavorwire
“Progressive….” NewPages
Eye-grabbing… fun… bold… inviting… exemplary.” Sabotage
Eclectic selection of work from both emerging and established writers….” The Washington Post
Literary Burroughs D.C…. the journal cleverly takes its name from the The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald….” Ploughshares
Proud member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review was founded in 2010 as an online and print literary and arts journal. We take our title from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and include the full archives of our predecessor Moon Milk ReviewOur aesthetic is eclectic, literary mainstream to experimental. We appreciate fusion forms including magical realist, surrealist, meta- realist and realist works with an offbeat spin. We value character-focused storytelling and language and welcome both edge and mainstream with punch aesthetics. We like humor that explores the gritty realities of world and human experiences. Our issues include original content from both emerging and established writers, poets, artists and comedians such as authors, Rick Moody, Cris Mazza, Steve Almond, Stephen Dixon, poets, Moira Egan and David Wagoner and actor/comedian, Zach Galifianakis.

Currently, Eckleburg runs online, daily content of original fictionpoetrynonfiction, translations, and more with featured artwork–visual and intermedia–from our Gallery. We run annual print issues, the Eckleburg Reading Series (DC, Baltimore and New York), as well as, the annual Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction, first prize $1000 and print publication, guest-judged by award-winning authors such as Rick Moody and Cris Mazza.

We have collaborated with a number of talented and high profile literary, art and intermedia organizations in DC, Baltimore and New York including The Poetry Society of New YorkKGB BarBrazenhead BooksNew World Writing (formerly Mississippi Review Online), The Hopkins ReviewBoulevardGargoyle MagazineEntasis PressBarrelhouseHobart826DCDC Lit and Iowa’s Mission Creek Festival at AWP 2013, Boston, for a night of raw comedic lit and music. We like to promote smaller indie presses, galleries, musicians and filmmakers alongside globally recognized organizations, as well as, our local, national and international contributors.

Rarely will readers/viewers find a themed issue at Eckleburg, but rather a mix of eclectic works. It is Eckleburg’s intention to represent writers, artists, musicians, and comedians as a contemporary and noninvasive collective, each work evidence of its own artistry, not as a reflection of an editor’s vision of what an issue “should” be. Outside of kismet and special issues, Eckleburg will read and accept unsolicited submissions based upon individual merit, not theme cohesiveness. It is our intention to create an experience in which readers and viewers can think artistically, intellectually, socially, and independently. We welcome brave, honest voices. To submit, please read our guidelines.


p align=”center”>Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away. – The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Body Narrative: Voice

 Voice is the person behind the words that speaks out to the audience…

Voice is your personality and resonance flowing in print.


We learn to speak very young; even before basic language is learned, an infant will vocalize sounds that range from coos of pleasure to cries of hunger. According to scholar Ellen Dissanayake, infants are born with a predisposition toward poetic features in their mother’s voices, including “repetition, exaggeration, elaboration, dynamic variation, and manipulation of expectation.” [i] We adopt variations in our speaking voices naturally, even before we learn to read, yet when it comes to our writing, acquiring a unique voice can be a lifelong process.

Aural voice—the kind produced by breath and vocal organs—is so unique to each individual that people can be identified simply by the manner in which they speak. Peter Elbow, retired professor Emeritus of English at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, calls this distinguishing feature “voiceprints.” [ii] Much like fingerprints or the particular way someone walks or stands, voiceprints are distinct and distinguishable between individuals.

Text on a page has no physical apparatus that allows us to “hear” a voice, yet we can think about written voice in much the same way as aural voice. The author’s syntax, diction, tone, use of punctuation or pause, idioms, rhythm, and other such elements create a “voice” that is often distinguishable between writers who have their own particular style. Elbow, in the introduction to his book, Landmark Essays on Voice and Writing, describes written voice as dramatic voice, the implied character of the speaker, which might be excitable, pretentious, funny, or stuffy, for example.

Elbow explains, “Most people […] automatically project aurally some speech sounds onto the text.” [iii] He continues, “In fact, people are virtually incapable of reading without nerve activity in the throat as though to speak—usually even muscular activity.” [iv] This explains why so many of us have the urge to move our lips as we read—we’re hearing voice as we read.

Attending to our voice as we write yields great benefits. When the voice is resonant, there is some new truth shared between reader and writer. A 2012 study by Emory University found that reading descriptive metaphors like “velvet voice” roused the sensory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for touch, whereas reading clichés like “strong hands” caused the sensory cortex to remain dark. [v] Voice gives flesh to writing and creates a unique connection between writer and audience. This is what all writers strive for and what only the greatest achieve.

As you begin to cultivate your own style, consider your voice’s history. You might begin by drawing lines on a sheet of paper for each decade of your life, zero to 10, 10 to 20, etc. Thinking about the age you were when you experienced voice chiding you: your naïve voice, a weary voice, a loving voice, a silenced voice, the illusion of having voice or attempting to have a voice, an agonized or troubled voice, a critical voice, an authentic voice. Also indicate in a different colored pen what was going on in your life at the time, including any desires or conflicts you may have experienced.

You might begin to notice that there isn’t just one voice for each person, but many. If you’re familiar with the story you want to tell, you can sometimes intuitively select a voice that most clearly communicates the narrative and emotion. You may have voices that you’ve not yet discovered. Think about whether your voice has changed over time, especially during moments of healing or conflict.

Writing Prompts for Cultivating Voice

  • Write an “I” poem. Dialogue with your different voices—your loud voices, the voice that insists on being heard and your reserved voice, the voice that questions itself. Can you tell the difference?
  • How does your cultural background influence your voice? 
  • Think of someone you speak with often. Try to describe his or her voice. Is it raspy? Nasal? Smooth? What makes someone’s voice forceful, distinctive, or memorable? Describe someone’s voice that is distant or less audible. 
  • Observe a person’s facial movements before and after they speak—what do you notice about the pitch, volume, tone, strength, and clarity of voice? What do the eyes, mouth, and jaw say? 
  • Study an author’s voice that you like a lot and an author’s voice that you don’t like at all; an author who you’ve recently read who has an engaging new voice; two stories or poems by different authors on the same theme; or a piece written in first person, third person, or in a mosaic of voices such as in the poetry of Mark Halliday. Try to find what makes one voice appealing and the other not appealing. What qualities make an author’s voice distinct and accessible? 
  • Experiment with switching voices, writing with multiple voices or with the voice of a game show announcer or talk-show host.   
  • Where is your writing filled with silences? Where are silences made visible? Have you purposefully put blanks between words? Does the silence of what you are not saying speak as loudly as what you are saying? 
  • Imitate an author’s voice you like. Pay attention to punctuation, syntax, verb choice, paragraph length, and imagery. How would you classify the writer’s style? Floral? Bare? Conversational? Fast or slow? 
  • How can you break free from emulation to discover your own unique voice? 

Over the course of a career, an author can experiment with varying voices, tones, and personas. Try not to worry too much about creating a definitive voice; yours will change and evolve as you discover new topics, techniques, and authors. Rather, focus on how to get in touch with what you really have to say—just as children develop voiceprints before they know what language means—the story’s voice will emerge intuitively from the story, as if by magic.



Image from: http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/high-frequency-electric-currents-in-medicine-and-dentistry-1910/

[i] Dissanayake, E. (2012). Artification: A human behavior for health (Master’s thesis). p. 47. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3893938/Ellen_Dissanayakes_Artification_A_Human_Behavior_for_Health

[ii] Elbow, P. (n.d.). What do we mean when we talk about voice in texts? Retrieved from https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Books/Sample/56347chap01.pdf

[iii] Elbow, P. (1995). Introduction. In Landmark essays on Voice and Writing. Mahwah, NJ: Routledge.

[iv] ibid

[v] Paul, A.M. (March 17, 2012). Your brain on fiction. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-neuroscience-of-your-brain-on-fiction.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&


Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry Therapy, Studies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental Health, Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women, Statement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.