Therese here. Please join me in welcoming 2019-guest-turned-2020-contributor, Barbara Probst! Barbara is no stranger to unboxed thinking. In 2008, she published a nonfiction book with Random House about out-of-the-box children called WHEN THE LABELS DON’T FIT. As a clinical social worker, she advocated for years for people who could not advocate for themselves. And this April, her debut novel will be published; QUEEN OF THE OWLS has already been named one of the most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother, and has been selected by the Pulpwood Queens (a network of nearly 800 book clubs across the U.S.) as their May selection. Welcome, Barbara!
A pun. A metaphor. And an invocation.
Not only is this my first official post in my new capacity as a regular monthly contributor, but it’s also only the second Writer Unboxed post of the new decade. A special opportunity, meriting special reflection.
As I think about my vision for 2020, as a debut novelist and a member of the writing community, I can’t help making the associative leap to the notion of 20/20 vision. Here’s what the American Optometric Association has to say:
20/20 vision is a term used to express normal visual acuity (the clarity or sharpness of vision) measured at a distance of 20 feet. If you have 20/20 vision, you can see clearly at 20 feet what should normally be seen at that distance.
Having 20/20 vision means you see things as they are, from an average distance. Not (necessarily) from a range of angles, or in shifting light, or while they’re in movement.
Having 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean you have perfect vision. Other important vision skills, including peripheral awareness or side vision, eye coordination, depth perception, focusing ability, and color vision, contribute to your overall visual ability.
The American Optometric Association is clear: you might think you have “perfect vision” because you can see what’s facing you at a distance of twenty feet, but that doesn’t mean you’re seeing what’s in the margins or the colors and patterns that might, in fact, be only inches away.
The parallel is intriguing.
As a writer, I need to notice, take in, and respond to the world around me—in different ways, not just from a single perspective. For sure, I need to have my own imagination and purpose and voice: those things show me how to incorporate the raw material of my impressions into the story I want to tell.
There are two parts to the process: what comes into me from the world around, and what I give back as my creative output. One way to be a better writer, then, is to be a better observer.
I ask myself: What kind of vision do I have?
Are there aspects of vision I tend to dismiss?
Can I see more?
Aspects of vision and the craft of writing:
Peripheral vision lets us see the stuff in the margins, outside our range if we’re only attending to the center of the image. For a writer, this can mean turning our attention to a minor character—to offer contrast, ease the tension, delay resolution, provide information, or plant a seed that will germinate later. In other words, the detour has to have purpose. Otherwise it’s just meandering—which means it’s something the reader will skip, appropriately.
Macro vision is like the wide angle lens of a camera, illuminating the broader landscape. By stepping back, we can see things in context; they might lose their detail, but they gain in meaning. For a writer, this means paying attention to the setting: era, culture, climate, landscape. It doesn’t mean spending pages and pages describing the town where the story occurs, but it does mean pulling back (at times) to keep your story anchored in a time, place, and way of life. A “macro” sentence or two can introduce a scene, orient the reader, or help to clarify why something has a particular impact.
Micro vision is just the opposite. [Read more…]