updated with links
Normally this would go on my ‘inspiration’ blog but I need this super bad.
Explain it in text? Without emphatic arm gestures or wine? Oh god. Okay. I’ll try.
All right, so narrative distance is all about the proximity between you the reader and the POV character in a story you’re reading. You might sometimes also hear it called “psychic distance.” It puts you right up close to that character or pulls you away, and the narrative distance an author chooses greatly affects how their story turns out, because it can drastically change the focus.
Here’s an illustration of narrative distance from far to close, from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction (a book I yelled at a lot, because Gardner is a pretentious bastard, but he does say very smart things about craft):
- It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
- Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
- Henry hated snowstorms.
- God how he hated these damn snowstorms.
- Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul
It feels a bit like zooming in with a camera, doesn’t it?
I always hate making decisions about narrative distance, because I usually get it wrong on the first try and have to fix it in revision. When I was writing Lost Causes, the first thing I had to do in revision was go through and zoom in a little on the narrative distance, because it felt like it was sitting right on top of Bruce’s prickly skin and it needed to be underneath where the little biting comments and intrusive thoughts lived.
Narrative distance is probably the simplest form of distance in POV, and there is where if I had two glasses of wine in me you would hit a vein of pure yelling. There are SO MANY forms of distance in POV. There’s the distance between the intended reader and the POV character, the distance between the POV character and the narrator (even if it’s 1st person!), the distance between the narrator and the author. There’s emotional distance, intellectual distance, psychological distance, experiential distance. If you look closely at a 3rd person POV story, you can tell things about the narrator as a person (and the narrator is an entity independent of the author) - like, for starters, you can tell if they’re sympathetic to the POV character by how they talk about their actions. Word choice and sentence structure can tell you a narrator’s level of education and where they’re from; you can sometimes even tell a narrator’s gender, class, and other less obvious identifying factors if you look closely enough. To find these details, ask: What does the narrator (or POV character, or author) understand?
I can’t put a name on the narrator of the Harry Potter books, but I can tell you he understands British culture intimately, what it’s like to be a teen boy with a crush, to not have money, to be lonely and abused, and to find and connect with people. There’s a lot he doesn’t understand (he doesn’t pick out little flags of queerness like I do, so he’s probably straight, for example), but he sympathizes with Harry and supports him. I like that narrator. I’m supposed to sympathize with him, and I do.
POV is made up of these little distances - countless small questions of proximity that, when stacked together, decide whether we’re going to root for or against a character, or whether we’ll put down a book 20 pages in, or whether a story will punch you in just the right place at just the right amount to make you bawl your eyes out.
There are so many different possible configurations of distance in this arena that there are literally infinite POVs. Fiction is magical and also intimidating as fuck.
LET’S TALK ABOUT NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER
No, really, they don’t. In fact, it’s better if they’re not. When you’re writing, especially if you’re writing violence, you can fall into an easy trap: you the writer know that violence is bad, but you also know that your character is good so they cannot perform bad acts and any act they perform is good so long as it was well-intentioned. You can get into the problem of your protagonist taking actions that are as bad as the villains they’re fighting and the only justification is: they’re not a bad person or they didn’t mean it.
Well, I’m sorry. Kant is made of fairy dust and bullshit.
Violence is a nasty business and characters must shoulder the burden of the consequences. Good people do bad things for good reasons and bad people do good things for bad ones, neither is any more or less culpable than the other. They exist in the same space because, you see, it’s the action itself that matters and not the meaning behind it. A reason is not the same thing as an intention.
Intention: “I shot that guy over there but I really didn’t mean it, so I’m not culpable.”
Reason: “I shot that guy over there so that the orphans over here wouldn’t starve, I’m definitely culpable but this is why.”
One character is trying to say that because they feel a certain way that the rules don’t apply to them. The other is making a choice to do something to achieve a goal, what that goal happens to be is up to the character. It could be something noble like saving starving orphans or it could be something cold like killing a man for money. Both acts can actually have good outcomes and they can also have bad ones, but what is important to remember is that the way a character feels about it changes nothing in how others may perceive them. However, their reasons may. This doesn’t require you the author to say that what they did was okay, even if their actions were for a good cause.
I’ve seen too many novels bend over backwards to attempt to morally justify the unjustifiable for one character and then condemn the same actions by another. Characters do bad things sometimes, but even then, they’ll still be worthy of love and respect from the reader.
I can’t add anything more worthwhile, but good lord all of this.
Here’s something I wish someone had told me when I was a little younger: If you spend more time worrying about being a bad artist than you do actually making art, you’re right. You are a bad artist. If you’re letting the fear of failure or mediocrity keep you from something you enjoy, you won’t improve.
The ONLY way to get past that fear is to embrace the joy of making art as only you can make it. Don’t make art as a means to an end, with the ultimate goal of reaching some predetermined point at which you reach a definitive level of skill and satisfaction. Make art because it’s all part of the process of learning and growing and most of all because it’s fun
Yes, it’s okay to vent. It’s okay to find solidarity within a community of people who feel the same way. But if you ever indulge the urge to complain instead of making art, you’re digging yourself deeper into your own grave. As good as it may feel, there is no situation where sitting around comparing yourself to others is the right thing to do
You don’t need to suddenly have confidence, you just need to focus on the joy you feel when you’re doing what you love to do. So shoosh your precious face and make art. Challenge yourself even if you want to cry. You will learn and you will grow. What you make, no matter how flawed, is special because it’s yours
also you know what you should do instead of just writing a woman who fights physically?
write women who are friends with each other. write women who get along with each other. write women who love each other.
write a woman who has a moment of weakness and finds support from another woman. write women who fight for each other. write women who find strength in each other. it’s so important.
Finding the information you need as a writer shouldn’t be a chore. Luckily, there are plenty of search engines out there that are designed to help you at any stage of the process, from coming up with great ideas to finding a publisher to get your work into print. Both writers still in college and those on their way to professional success will appreciate this list of useful search applications that are great from making writing a little easier and more efficient.
Find other writers, publishers and ways to market your work through these searchable databases and search engines.
- Litscene: Use this search engine to search through thousands of writers and literary projects, and add your own as well.
- Thinkers.net: Get a boost in your creativity with some assistance from this site.
- PoeWar: Whether you need help with your career or your writing, this site is full of great searchable articles.
- Publisher’s Catalogues: Try out this site to search through the catalogs and names of thousands of publishers.
- Edit Red: Through this site you can showcase your own work and search through work by others, as well as find helpful FAQ’s on writing.
- Writersdock: Search through this site for help with your writing, find jobs and join other writers in discussions.
- PoetrySoup: If you want to find some inspirational poetry, this site is a great resource.
- Booksie.com: Here, you can search through a wide range of self-published books.
- One Stop Write Shop: Use this tool to search through the writings of hundreds of other amateur writers.
- Writer’s Cafe: Check out this online writer’s forum to find and share creative works.
- Literary Marketplace: Need to know something about the publishing industry? Use this search tool to find the information you need now.
These helpful tools will help you along in the writing process.
- WriteSearch: This search engine focuses exclusively on sites devoted to reading and writing to deliver its results.
- The Burry Man Writers Center: Find a wealth of writing resources on this searchable site.
- Writing.com: This fully-featured site makes it possible to find information both fun and serious about the craft of writing.
- Purdue OWL: Need a little instruction on your writing? This tool from Purdue University can help.
- Writing Forums: Search through these writing forums to find answers to your writing issues.
Try out these tools to get your writing research done in a snap.
- Google Scholar: With this specialized search engine from Google, you’ll only get reliable, academic results for your searches.
- WorldCat: If you need a book from the library, try out this tool. It’ll search and find the closest location.
- Scirus: Find great scientific articles and publications through this search engine.
- OpenLibrary: If you don’t have time to run to a brick-and-mortar library, this online tool can still help you find books you can use.
- Online Journals Search Engine: Try out this search engine to find free online journal articles.
- All Academic: This search engine focuses on returning highly academic, reliable resources.
- LOC Ask a Librarian: Search through the questions on this site to find helpful answers about the holdings at the Library of Congress.
- Encylcopedia.com: This search engine can help you find basic encyclopedia articles.
- Clusty: If you’re searching for a topic to write on, this search engine with clustered results can help get your creative juices flowing.
- Intute: Here you’ll find a British search engine that delivers carefully chosen results from academia.
- AllExperts: Have a question? Ask the experts on this site or search through the existing answers.
Need to look up a quote or a fact? These search tools make it simple.
- Writer’s Web Search Engine: This search engine is a great place to find reference information on how to write well.
- Bloomsbury Magazine Research Centre: You’ll find numerous resources on publications, authors and more through this search engine.
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus: Make sure you’re using words correctly and can come up with alternatives with the help of this tool.
- References.net: Find all the reference material you could ever need through this search engine.
- Quotes.net: If you need a quote, try searching for one by topic or by author on this site.
- Literary Encyclopedia: Look up any famous book or author in this search tool.
- Acronym Finder: Not sure what a particular acronym means? Look it up here.
- Bartleby: Through Bartleby, you can find a wide range of quotes from famous thinkers, writers and celebrities.
- Wikipedia.com: Just about anything and everything you could want to look up is found on this site.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Find all the great philosophers you could want to reference in this online tool.
If you’re focusing on writing in a particular niche, these tools can be a big help.
- PubGene: Those working in sci-fi or medical writing will appreciate this database of genes, biological terms and organisms.
- GoPubMd: You’ll find all kinds of science and medical search results here.
- Jayde: Looking for a business? Try out this search tool.
- Zibb: No matter what kind of business you need to find out more about, this tool will find the information.
- TechWeb: Do a little tech research using this news site and search engine.
- Google Trends: Try out this tool to find out what people are talking about.
- Godchecker: Doing a little work on ancient gods and goddesses? This tool can help you make sure you have your information straight.
- Healia: Find a wide range of health topics and information by using this site.
- Sci-Fi Search: Those working on sci-fi can search through relevant sites to make sure their ideas are original.
Find your own work and inspirational tomes from others by using these search engines.
- Literature Classics: This search tool makes it easy to find the free and famous books you want to look through.
- InLibris: This search engine provides one of the largest directories of literary resources on the web.
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- Google Book Search: Search through the content of thousands upon thousands of books here, some of which is free to use.
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For web writing, these tools can be a big help.
- Technorati: This site makes it possible to search through millions of blogs for both larger topics and individual posts.
- Google Blog Search: Using this specialized Google search engine, you can search through the content of blogs all over the web.
- Domain Search: Looking for a place to start your own blog? This search tool will let you know what’s out there.
- OpinMind: Try out this blog search tool to find opinion focused blogs.
- IceRocket: Here you’ll find a real-time blog search engine so you’ll get the latest news and posts out there.
- PubSub: This search tool scours sites like Twitter and Friendfeed to find the topics people are talking about most every day.
“Why do you let him goad you like this?” Dad rubs the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index knuckle, leaning back against his decrepit desk. The bobble-head perched there nods, as though agreeing with him. I wrap my arms tight about myself in some vain attempt to hold back the angry sniffles and sobs wanting to take over. “I know it isn’t fair to you, but the more you allow Butch to get to you, the more attention you draw from the Overseer.”
“But he was the one who started it!”
“Eliza!” Dad looks at me, and steps forward to cup my cheeks. His thumbs gently brush away the sweltering tears staining my cheeks. “I know how difficult it is for you to stand by and let Amata be bullied. To be truthful, I’m proud of you. But sometimes we have to make tough decisions.”
He pauses and looks to the side, away from me. Even then I thought that, sometimes, I was just too painful for him to look at. As much as everyone says I look like him, I knew with the all the surety of my thirteen years that the only person he ever saw in me was Mom. “What do you think would happen if the Overseer found those boys picking on his daughter?”
I sniffle and whip my nose on my arm, refusing to answer.
“Get mad at them,” I am forced to admit.
Dad drops his hands from my face, chuckling. “And he wouldn’t get mad at…?”
“He’d still get mad at me!” My hands curl into tiny fists, not yet able to do much more than make a noise as they hit the examination table. “Nothing I do is good enough for him! If it isn’t that I hit Butch, it’ll be that I didn’t protect Amata. Don’t you see that?”
In his eyes I see that he does. But still, he shakes his head. “The Overseer is fair, Eliza. Perhaps you judge him too harshly.”
Years later, when I am twenty and he is dead, I find we were both right.
-Excerpt from as yet untitled Fallout fic.
I don’t know that this will make it into the final edit, but I liked it too much not to share.
For meme: BEFORE THE BEGINNING
"I understand." The words fell from my lips automatically, lifeless in the dead, rank air of the vault.
Amata didn’t notice or she didn’t want to notice. Her lips lifted, her eyes smiled, her voice sounded so hopeful when she said “thank you.” Numbly, I realized there was a single tear tracing down her cheek that she brushed away before anyone else might see.
Suddenly everything was compressed. It was difficult to breath, difficult to see. Turning, I shoved past Cross and stumbled my way through suddenly strange, unfamiliar corridors until I found the exit.
Is it really sad that I’m only just naming the Big Bad for SaTh? I have like…four chapters of script done.