This is Emma Darwin's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Emma Darwin's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Emma Darwin
I write novels and short fiction and I live in South East London.
Interests: fiction, creative non-fiction, novels, short fiction, short stories, historical fiction, academic writing, writing, reading, editing, teaching
Recent Activity
Jules, that's such a perceptive reading and I think you're absolutely right. Debi and I have had many different takes on psychic distance, in the years we've been teaching it, and the "long-shot" "wide-angle" "medium-shot" "close-up" one is always a favourite. But you're right, it's subtler than that: it's about directing attention as much as it's about how much context you do or don't have. And yes, the best technique slips past even the technique-conscious reader.(As a judge that's the one I say "Turned me back into a reader", and I give the prize to!) It's something to do with perfect match between the technique and the writer's idea of the story. With things like Wolf Hall it's often only a page or two later that my conscious writerly brain catches up and thinks, "Blimey, that was good, back there!".
1 reply
You're welcome Sandra. And yes, I agree - whether or not you can see a problem, and whether or not you can then see what to do about it, does seem very variable. One reason I work such a lot on paper is that at least I can scribble "PD wrong. ?Too far out?" or whatever, and know that at least I've found some of the problem, and it's now safely tethered, ready for when I will start to see the solution.
1 reply
You're welcome, Manikmia!
1 reply
Isn't it good! I'm so grateful to Susannah Rickards for recommending it. Like you, I hadn't thought of some aspects of not-writing as having their roots in the same place as more obvious procrastinatory messes, but they do..
1 reply
Yes, I think that can work very well ... as long as going back to existing work doesn't just become a way of avoiding the problem. In a first draft, have a rule with myself that I never go further back than the previous session's work, edit my way forwards to the sticking point, and then force myself onwards. But, as you say, very often the problem turns out to have sorted itself out, or at least you've seen a way to ride over the bump (perhaps with a note that more will need doing another time), and start moving forwards again.
1 reply
You're welcome, Valerie. Glad it was useful, and you carry on exploring.
1 reply
Hi Jemma - and you're welcome. Thinking about your problem, I know I kicked off the post with demanding WHO's telling the story, but of course zillions of novels get on perfectly well without having a sense of a narrator who you could put your finger on as a personality. The voice is probably pretty close to the writer's "default" voice - the one your prose sounds like when you're not trying to sound like anything/one else, as it were. When you're well zoomed out, it can just be neutral, a camera, just describing plainly what's there and what's happening. Have a look at the post I've just this minute put up, with examples of pyschic distance by really good writers: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2015/04/psychic-distance-how-terrific-writers-actually-use-it.html The Andrew Taylor, it seems to me, is a lovely bit of writing but not one with a strong sense of a human particular personality behind it: there's just enough to make us feel the period (it's set in the late 18th century) and the elegant atmosphere of the place, and make sure we get the geography which will be crucial to the plot ... but no strong value-judgements ... yet. Of course, it is a crime novel, so we may later discover that all that elegance is not quite what it seems. If you're going to have a narrator with their own personality, would it help to think of who might want to tell the story? And why? Not for reasons intertwined with the plot, but if you think of them as some kind of human entity who always sees the funny side and wants to make the reader laugh, or is profoundly angry at the fate of innocents, or some other driver? That is a very different way of setting about things - and it would very clearly take the narrative towards a stronger flavour, as it were, but it is an option.
1 reply
Ah, yes, I know that one. Glad the post helps!
1 reply
You're welcome, LilyC. Good luck!
1 reply
You won't read This Itch of Writing for long without coming across my conviction that Psychic Distance - a.k.a. Narrative Distance - is the most useful way there is of working with point-of-view, voice, the insides of character's heads, the reader's feeling for those characters, the relationship of characters and narrative ... about 75% of your job of a novel or life writing piece, in other words. Pyschic Distance week on the current Self-Editing Course has, as ever, lit a galaxy of lightbulbs in the participants, but I've realised we could do with some more examples of how it works... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at This Itch of Writing: the blog
One of my personal alarm bells, as it were, is when getting washed and dressed seems suddenly impossible. Sure sign that I'm feeling over-burdened, and need a breather. Best of luck with it and yes - the only thing more therapeutic than eating cake is baking a cake and then eating it.
1 reply
You're welcome, Joanna. Good luck with it all!
1 reply
Four viruses since Christmas is really tough, Lindsay, along with all the ordinary writing-and-life stuff. Take it easy...
1 reply
You're welcome, Miranda. And yes, the Must-Write Demon is an under-publicised little bugger, and sometimes just as lethal as the Anti-Writing Demon.
1 reply
Glad you liked it, Katrina. I think we all need reminding of these kinds of remedies - there's something about depressed states which wipes them from your mind and makes you feel your current state is How Life Will Be Forever!
1 reply
Anne, you're so right - having learnt to keep the seat of your pants on the seat of the chair whether you want to or not, and do the emotional equlivalent of staying inside your own tenderest places whether you want to or not ... you then have to learn when to hear the part of you that's saying "STOP!". So difficult. As Susan Howatch (of all writers!) says somewhere in her CoE series, it's no wonder that people pray for the grace of discernment... And yes, sometimes what's telling you to stop is that actually you really are too close to your own bones. Love your blog - thanks for posting that link.
1 reply
Anthony, I think that kind of thing is very natural - the summary followed by the detail, as it were. It's so natural in a storytelling voice that I'd resist the idea that one should always and utterly get rid of it. Certainly in any fiction where the narrator's voice is very present - we're conscious of a storyteller in charge of what gets told - then sure, sometimes they'll summarise things, in their voice, as any storyteller will. Comic fiction is so often like this, perhaps because it depends so much on tone to make sure we see the funny side, and the narrator is in control of tone... It's very noticeable that the mif 20th century allergy to Telling comes along at the same point as the allergy to knowledgeable, privileged narrators. But of course, the risk is that you end up repeating things, or weakening the surprise of the Showing, by Telling us what it's all about. Obviously I don't know the context but this seems to me perfectly natural: the general point, and then the direct physical, sensory detail. It suits the fact that - I gather - at the moment this is throwaway stuff, just a bit of observation, not important. The narrator would quite likely summarise, but vividly enough to conjure up the moment. 'There was a bit of a ruckus from upstairs, the dull ache of armor clattering against the stone slabs.' With this 'There was a polite knock knock knock to start with, which quickly became a noticeably harsher thud thud thud on the wood.' I'd suggest that "polite" works well to qualify knock-knock-knock - I know just how that sounds. On the other hand, having set that up, the later section is a bit over-explained. I hope you don't mind me having a go, but I'd be tempted to do something like this: 'There was a polite knock knock knock to start with, then a harsher thud thud thud.' or even something like 'A first, polite knock knock knock on the wood became a harsher thud thud thud.' And this 'It was safe to say that Grin wasn’t a fan of their home town of D., nor was he a fan of the opera, or very much else in fact.' is definitely the narrator's voice. It's explaining, isn't it - possibly of the sort I was talking about in my post about doing an explain-ectomy, and you'd have to decide whether the point is blindingly obvious from the Showing of Grin as a character-in-action, or whether in fact this is a good summary since you don't want to spend ages Showing us what you could Tell. I think what I'm saying is that you have to dust each little bit of this kind of Telling/summarising/informing/explaining down, look at what's going on without it, and with it, and make your decision!
1 reply
Deborah, of course - help yourself! I'd love to think of students of that age getting their heads round the ideas. Including the idea that TElling isn't a bad thing!
1 reply
Ah, yes, the not-getting-on-with-it phase... Good luck, and sorry not to see you in Devon!
1 reply
You're welcome, Deborah. It can be like pulling teeth, can't it - or if not that painful, then at least that slow...
1 reply
*ONE PLACE LEFT ON THE ITCH OF WRITING WORKSHOP RETREAT! Click here for more details * I'm talking about those times when writing seems impossible but so does everything else: when your heart - your life itself - is stapled to the page and no one wants it. And that heart, the life itself, is a miserable, clichéd, shrivelled thing, and you a deluded, talentless fool for ever dreaming that you might have something worth saying which people would want to hear. Just as the Guardian's Work-Agony Uncle Jeremy Bullmore inspired me to track down Jerusha Cowless and recruit her... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2015 at This Itch of Writing: the blog
18
Yes, it is partly a matter of taste and who you are. And also - airportly - how one's geiger-counter is set, and how much one's concentrating. Also, perhaps, where the interest of the narrative lies: some stories it's what happens as a consequence of a strong emotion (lots of "love stories" are built on the existence of the love, but take the nature of the love itself pretty much for granted), others are interested in anatomising the structure and texture of the emotion itself. I remember when I was working on the US edition of A Secret Alchemy; the modern strand turns on a teenaged girl falling in love with someone and never saying a word about it to him. My editor said that US readers just wouldn't believe that he had NO idea - that she wouldn't have shown or said it in some way. She did say, "It's just very English". On the other hand, I couldn't derail the plot too much. So I wrote in a scene for the US edition where she did betray how she felt in spite of herself, and he was equally confused and inhibited - because he didn't reciprocate her love - and turned away, and so she didn't dare do anything again to make it show, let alone tell him explicitly.
1 reply
Very true - there's a plainness in the Dunmore which works brilliantly. I think it's partly because the events are so strong, but also because she's very good at the materiality of that world - the scratch and sniff, as it were. I read it years ago, and can still remember, e.g., the food she brings back from the dacha, and has to give to the guards...
1 reply
Aw - yes, you only need the plain thoughts, don't you. There's enough in the scene for the feelings to be there between the lines...
1 reply
So glad it's being useful for you, Alma, and best of luck with the course.
1 reply