I saw a Facebook post recently that asked the question, “What mistakes did you make in your early writings?” Naturally, I offered an honest answer. In past scribbling, I was guilty of “distancing” my readers from my characters. However, I have since learned how to close the gap between reader and character.
What Are Distancing Phrases?
You create distance by telling what the character saw, as opposed to letting the reader see through the character’s eyes. Instead of listing every possible manner of distancing and its fix, I’ve decided to write a small paragraph which displays distancing. Yes, I know there’s an element of the old Show vs. Tell going on here, but I’m concentrating on the relationship between reader and character.
This Is True for Filmmaking as Well
Remember the last time you watched a well-made film? You were completely immersed into the world and characters presented to you. So much so, that you forgot about the real world. Notice what happens if the film breaks or if there’s a commercial interruption. You become jolted out of the immersion.
Let’s say your main character is John. Here’s some text loaded with distancing.
John offered the diary to Mary. He could see her hand trembling with nervous trepidation as she grabbed the little green journal. “The page is marked,” John said. He watched as she took hold of the white ribbon and turned to the infamous page. As her eyes scanned the entry, John noticed her curled lip.
She closed her eyes and dropped the book. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”
He felt terrible about revealing the truth to Mary and decided to hug her.
If the main character is John, then everything written is from his point of view. Everything seen, felt, smelled, or heard happens through him. Therefore there is no need for “He could see…”, “He watched…”, or “He felt terrible…” Also, once these distancing expressions are removed, you get locked into heightening the points for added drama while editing.
John offered the diary to Mary. Her trembling hand reached out and then recoiled away. He stretched out his arm, forcing the book closer to her. “The page is marked.”
After a deep breath, she held out her hand. John planted the little green journal into her palm.
She opened it to the infamous page marked with a piece of white ribbon. Her lip curled as her eyes scanned the entry. “I can’t believe my sister did something like that.”
With an aching in his chest, he lurched forward, wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.
There is a vast difference between my first short story, “Stasis,” and my latest one, “Night Flights.” Although improved, I was still not completely satisfied with my writing. However, I’ve learned so much about editing over the past year, and have applied that knowledge to my forthcoming fantasy novel.
How About You?
Did your early writing distance the reader? Did you do a bit too much “telling” and block your readers from getting immersed in your characters and world?
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