Calvino’s Quickness

Quickness refers to the style and structure of a story. Literature with this quality follows a logical narrative pattern. Calvino says the events “rhyme,” meaning they parallel each other to create a cohesive story, thereby making the narrative more effective. It is the rhythm of narrative time, above all, which determines the quality of the storytelling. Calvino believes that folktales exemplify quickness.


“The very first characteristic of a folktale is economy of expression.The most outlandish adventures are recounted with an eye fixed on the bare essentials.”

Further, quickness is a mode of thought, “a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.” Calvino quotes from the scientist Gallileo, who said, “Good thinking means quickness, agility in reasoning, economy in argument, but also the use of imaginative examples.”


Calvino compares quickness to the Roman god Mercury, who, as messenger of the gods, moves quickly and with alacrity. Literature must do the same; it must “aim at the maximum concentration of poetry and thought.” Calvino’s own personal motto and emblem are taken from the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Festina Lente, or “hurry slowly,” is Calvino’s touchstone for all his literary works. It is symbolized by the dolphin twined around an anchor.

My example of quickness is the short animated film Paperman. The story moves with alacrity from one scene to the next, all without words, yet none of the meaning is lost. The images speak for themselves and make the narrative smooth and streamlined. Click on the link below to watch.

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