I received a critique recently from my friend and fellow Texan, DiAnn Mills, in which she mentioned the term, "psychic distance." Now, I've been studying writing for over four years, but that one threw me for a loop. What in the world is "psychic distance?" Does that have to do with introducing a fortune-teller in the second act?
A little research (ah, Google is a wonderful tool) brought me to yet another book about the craft of writing, one that held the answer to this question and several other nuggets that I intend to incorporate into my work. The book is by the late John Gardner, and is called The Art Of Fiction: Notes On Craft For Young Writers. Frankly, a lot of the book was too abstract for me, some of it was too technical (trochaic, dactylic, anapestic, and antibrachic meter--oh, give me a break!), but some parts are pure gold.
For those of you who are wondering about psychic distance, it's just the term that denotes the relative distance the reader feels between himself and the events in the story. Think of it in movie terms: long opening shot, pan in to a closer view, maybe a two-shot (two people), and eventually a close-up of one character. The skillful writer generally starts with an overall view (always maintaining the same point of view, of course), then pans in. Here's an example from Gardner. The POV is third person, from distant to very close:
1. It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3. Henry hated snowstorms.
4. Oh, how he hated those d--n snowstorms.
5. Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul.
Get the idea? Try looking for it in the novels you read, and incorporate the technique into your own writing. I plan to.
Gardner also mentions the most common errors in writing that he encountered during his years of teaching creative writing. I'll be posting about those later. Meanwhile, pan out and fade to black. Music up. Roll credits.