23 April 2018

Psychic Distance

In the beginning of drafting a short novel, I have to consider different options of point of view and narrative space, as well as their pros and cons. To brush up what I have learned on this topic, here are a quick review and some examples. Hope this will help you in your reading and writing.

Outside POV: Panoramic view

  •  Dramatic or Playwright POV

Excerpt from Hills Like White Elephants by E. Hemingway:

‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig, the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.’

The girl did not say anything.

‘I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.’

‘Then what will we do afterwards?’

‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’ ‘What makes you think so?’

‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’

The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.

‘And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.’

Combination of Inside & Outside POV: Panning Out and Closeups

  •  Omniscient

 Grapes of Wrath Chapter 7, page 77-78:

“A lot and a house large enough for a desk and chair and a blue book. Sheaf of contracts, dog-eared, held with paper clips, and a neat pile of unused contracts. Pen- keep it full, keep it working… Owners with rolled up sleeves. Salesmen, neat, deadly, small intent eyes watching for weaknesses…”

“Lookin’ for a car? What did you have in mind? See anything attracts you? I‘m dry. How about a little snort of good stuff? Come on, while your wife’s looking’ at that La Salle. You don‘t want no La Salle. Bearings shot. Uses to much oil. Got a Lincoln ‘24. There‘s a car. Run forever. Make her into a truck.”

*This also includes Direct Internal Monologue (the car dealers) Many, many shifts of temporal and psychic distance in this book

From War and Peace by Tolstoy:

“When Boris came into the Rostov’s dining room, Natasha was up in her room. Hearing of his arrival she almost ran down to the drawing room, red in the face and radiant with a more than friendly smile.

Boris was still thinking of the little Natasha he had known four years ago dressed in a short frock, with brilliant black eyes darting out form under her curls, all wild whoops and girlish giggles, so when he saw a totally different Natasha coming into the room he was quite taken aback, and the surprise and delight showed on his face. Natasha was thrilled to see him looking like that.”

  •  Limited Omniscient

From “To Build a Fire” by Jack London:

“…Once in a while the thought reiterated itself that it was very cold and that he had never experienced such cold. As he walked along he rubbed his cheek-bones and nose with the back of his mittened hand. He did this automatically, now and again changing hands. But rub as he would, the instant he stopped his cheek-bones went numb, and the following instant the end of his nose went numb. He was sure to frost his cheeks; he knew that, and experienced a pang of regret that he had not devised a nose-strap of the sort Bud wore in cold snaps. Such a strap passed across the cheeks, as well, and saved them. But it didn’t matter much, after all. What were frosted cheeks? A bit painful, that was all; they were never serious…”

  •   Diminishing First Person

From The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald:

“…One autumn night, five years before, they [Gatsby & Daisy] had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete…”

Inside POV: Only Close-ups

  • First person: most fall into this internal
  • Third person: 2 kinds— A) Interior monologue:

From The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen:

“She had to catch her train. As a woman whose utter dependability was the keystone of her family life she was not willing to return to the country, to her husband, her little boys, and her sister, without the objects she had come up to fetch. Resuming work at the chest she set about making up a number of parcels in a rapid, fumbling-decisive way. These, with her shopping parcels, would be too much to carry; these meant a taxi—at the thought of the taxi her heart went up and her normal breathing resumed. I will ring up the taxi now; the taxi cannot come too soon: I shall hear the taxi out there running its engine, till I walk calmly down to it through the hall. I’ll ring up—But no: the telephone is cut off . . . She tugged at a knot she had tied wrong.”

B) Stream of Consciousness:

From James Joyce Ulysses:

“He walked on. Where is my hat, by the way? Must have put it back on the peg. Or hanging up on the floor. Funny I don’t remember that. Hallstand too full. Four umbrellas, her raincloak. Picking up the letters. Drago’s shopbell ringing. Queer I was just thinking that moment…”

20 May 2016

The Creative Process: Reviewing and Reflecting

Being an immigrant from China, I can relate to the short story “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan, which I read recently. My relationship with my mother has deteriorated over the past ten years. She has put lots of pressure on me to get married and have kids, a different kind of expectation from the mother in “Two Kinds”, but it is basically the same as the narrator in “Two Kinds” points out: “For unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me.”

In her TED Talk on “Where Does Creativity Hide”, Tan discusses her writing process and the creativity that goes into her work. Her talk sheds light on her writing process that may be applicable to other writers: start from real-life experiences; pay attention to those moments when ideas seem to pop up from nowhere; and use imagination to create a world full of believable characters and events.

Tan also points out that the process of writing is a combination of conscious effort and serendipity. Do not over think what the piece is about, just keep writing and see where it will take you. This is the opposite of what I usually do. I tend to have a detailed outline and know what it is about before I start. Now I’d like to let myself loose and not to adhere to the outline too rigidly. I hope to surprise myself more often especially in areas like character development and narrative arc in my current and future writings.

If you have any thoughts and reflections on your own writing process and like to share, I’d love to hear it.

And in the immortal words of a fellow writer: “WRITE AND KEEP ON WRITING!”