Monday, June 20, 2011

Lights, Camera... pen ran out of ink... why does this always happen when...

Briefly updating - I've had a pretty good weekend, writing wise. On Saturday, I had a chance to go to the big Reference Library in Toronto - where the "rare" books live. I got to take a look at some materials for my novel, including stuff that was printed in the era (1900'ish).  It was inspiring to say the least.

Secondly, I'm still hacking away on a short story (around 6k in length). For some reason, this story has leant itself very well to me practicing a more diligent editing process. Currently, I'm on the second go-through, chopping out all the lines that just plain don't sound good.

Next up though, and what I really want to talk about, is that I'm going to go through it as if I'm filming it.  This idea comes from John Gardner (The Art of Fiction). He approaches "psychic distance" in this manner:

Psychic distance is how "close" the reader is to the action. Picture a camera on a dolly.  With this dolly and the zoom lense you can get as close to, or as far away from, your subject as you wish. The example he uses is an excellent one, so I'll paraphrase.

Wide Shot: On December seventeenth of that year, a man made his way unsteadily down Main street, skidding in the smoke stained slush.

Medium Shot: Philip cursed as he slipped again. He paid his taxes like everyone else, the least the city could do was clear the damned sidewalk.

Closeup: Wet, freezing clumps of coldness slopped over the rim of his shoes, soaking his socks, his feet, his will to live.

See - neat, huh?

Jumping around a bit, Terry Pratchett famously said that the first time you're writing a story, you're telling yourself the story. The second time through, you're telling it to the reader. Big difference.

Now, let's put the two together. When you're writing, do you see the action in your mind? Do you hear the dialogue?   If you think about it, do you see the camera cutting back and forth between your characters, and the action?

This is something to do (and something I'll be bringing to my local writer's group this week.) Take something you've written. Now, put on a baseball cap and a soulpatch, and mark the thing up like you have to shoot it. Mark your shots (Wide, Medium, Closeup, Extreme Closeup... wiki for more...) Mark up your cuts, and mark your major scene changes.

Now, how does your "shot list" compare with what's on the page? Make that movie - if you rewrite a paragraph from a different "angle" or "zoom level", what happens to the action?

And then, let me know how it worked for you! I'm just starting down this path myself, and I'm desperately curious to know if it's helpful.

Keep @ 'er.



  1. Very interesting style to try. I'll give it a go and let you know how it works out:)

  2. I often do see my scenes like a movie playing out, and that is what has helped me to know what and when to focus on, though I've never heard of Gardner's examples. That is very helpful, and I like the idea of marking it on page, maybe even in an outline, so you can see the variety and style of your focus.
    Cool, Chris. Thanks, and good luck with it.

  3. Well, this is embarrassing to say, but I've never thought of it. I know when I start a scene sometimes I like to start from the outside and work my way in. Like a worm munching on an apple working towards the core. I absolutely love the example you give here. What a fun way to break up a scene to give it flavor, especially if one is hitting a wall. I will definitely do this. Maybe next time I write a short I'll do it this way just for fun (although I've sworn off short stories until next oct or nov- torturous!)

    Good stuff, Chris!

  4. Great post and a great way to go about describing perspective. I'm a fan.