This past February and March were Seattle’s mossiest, moldiest and mushroomiest Februarys and Marches in 120 years. In other words, it was really rainy. Usually the gray makes me cozy and able to focus on work, but this year, it has made me angry and frizzy. Crabby too. So when a few weeks back I sat down to write at a coffee shop and I specifically chose to sit next to a guy who was clearly working on his computer and would therefore not be chatting with anyone, and but so then a female friend sat down and they proceeded to talk and talk and talk, breaking talking records for the months of February and March, I got irritated.
The woman (tall, thin in that pinched way, sensible jeans, no makeup, and mid-forties, self-absorbed and epically dull) was the problem. She yakked boastfully about her “mindfulness around food and eating.” She yakked whinily about sitting in the middle seat of the center aisle of her flight home from India. (To summarize: the middle seat of the center aisle isn’t great. Who knew?) She yakked nasally about the henna paintings on her arm. About how she had missed fresh veggies whilst in India. How, in India, she was the only person in the whole group who didn’t fall off her paddle board.
In sunnier seasons, I love to eavesdrop, to play detective and figure out the players and their dynamics and the subtexts of their conversations. I hunger for narrative closeness. Not with this lady. I wanted to be nowhere near her narrative.
We writers often talk about point of view, focusing only on first person or third, or limited third or omniscient second, or shifting close third, or a grande extra hot split-shot caramel macchiato.
But in addition to first vs. third vs. omniscient, we also need to consider narrative distance—a tool writers use to manipulate the distance between the reader and a narrator. [Read more…]