Friday, 30 May 2014

That Pesky Psychic Distance...Again.


The time where you take your s****y first draft and start slicing into it like a surgeon, removing the maggot-ridden and infected flesh to leave only healthy tissue.

Two years ago, I 'attended' the online self-edit course, run by the Writer's Workshop. (Would recommend it in a heartbeat) It gave me many tools to use in my editing surgeon's kit...but I still feel as though I'm operating with boxing gloves on because I still can't seem to use some of the tools right! Which is nothing to do with the fabulous tutors, Debi and Emma, and everything to do with ME.

The tool I struggle most with is Psychic Distance. I wrote about it recently - you can check out the blog and various links to sources explaining what it is, here. I understand the theory, can recognise it in other people's writing and can go so far in putting it into my own...but I still can't seem to crack the really deep stuff.

Problem is, I realised recently that I don't actually like reading PD5. So I avoid writing it.

Let me explain...

I've just finished 'Talking to the Dead' by Harry Bingham. (Harry is also the face of Writer's Workshop, which we love him for!) I've also recently finished 'Prince of Thorns' by Mark Lawrence. I can heartily recommend both books - I couldn't put either of them down for very different reasons. Harry's thriller has a somewhat dysfunctional policewoman as his main character, Mark's fantasy has a murdering, pillaging teenage prince as his. Both books are written in first person, so you're pretty close to the main character throughout.

But - and this is no disrespect to Harry here, we're talking just about me and my reactions - I preferred Prince of Thorns, because it didn't go so deep into the MC's head. I actually felt uncomfortable with Fiona Griffiths' view of the world. That's not to say I was entirely comfortable with the murdering, pillaging teenager either, but I was able to observe his world from more of a distance...I wasn't inside his skin, experiencing everything like I did with Fiona. That, I found unsettling and uncomfortable.

I think this has reinforced my realisation that I'm first and foremost an observer when I write. I can't 'do' (maybe I avoid?) the touchy feely stuff, but I can tell the story. When others say 'you could go really deep into this character here', I simply can't. And it's not through lack of trying...

Is it a bad thing, that I can't do psychic distance to the extreme? Not necessarily. Look at Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. I don't remember getting inside the heads of Charlie in the chocolate factory or the Saucepan Man in the Magic Faraway Tree...but I loved (and still remember) the stories. Course, I'm not for one moment suggesting that I'm anywhere near as good a writer as either of them; just that my personal writing style is similar. A bit outdated, maybe?

Oh, it's confusing! Do I accept myself as the writer I am, knowing that it doesn't tick 'modern' boxes? Or push myself to add something into my writing that I'm just not comfortable doing?

Maybe I'll just have to keep cutting up cadavers until I get good enough to try it on the real thing...


  1. Hiya, Squidge, interesting post. You know what? I think you're too nice a person and that's your main problem. What I would suggest is, and I know you may find it difficult being a housewife/mother etc. but, try and find the time in your busy life and go out in various places people watching.

    I do a lot of people watching especially in the main shopping area and as I use public transport a lot, that too. All you need with you is your notebook and pencil then sit and observe. Watch like a hawk making the odd note as you go. In particular I pick someone out and as it were, be them, for the time I'm watching.

    Focus on there movements, facial expressions, mannerisms etc, just get right into their heads. I find it helps me, maybe it'll help you the same. One way or another you'll get there eventually. Good luck.

    1. Bless you Baz, for that! Though if you ever see me trying to get the kids to tidy their rooms/Mr Squidge not to dismantle something engineery on the lounge carpet/deal with the cat when he brings a dead bird in, you wouldn't think I was so nice! ;)
      I love people watching...and probably don't do it as much as I used to. I'll have to get back to it, studying folk over a cup of tea in the market place...

  2. I can appreciate that it could be the intensity of the emotional response that can be upsetting. To take an extreme example, when reading about the suffering of a cancer patient it's probably sufficient to just be able to understand it's a place no-one wants to be, rather than suffer every excruciating detail.

    And whatever emotion it is, if you have had a really bad experience, you'll probably not want to revisit again.

    There again some writing is about pushing boundaries into an area outside one's comfort zone - there's nothing wrong with that, it's just another lesson.

    1. Exactamundo, Stephen. I don't like to dwell on 'bad' experiences, so perhaps I don't allow myself to really experience the emotions to be able to portray them effectively. Yet I can see the benefit of pushing myself to do exactly that...

  3. I am on the next SE course and only have a vague idea of what PD is. I think i understand the concept but I didn't know such labels existed for such things...

    I tend to write most of my stuff in the first person, although the voice can be of a participant or an observer. I try to write as if I am sitting across from the reader and relating the tale from my perspective. I leave them to do the psycho evaluation as to my character and perspective although I try to leave enough clues as to why 'I' think and react like I do, by embedding some sort of back story either by a forward or to intermittent references.

    I don't have the range to write outside of that perspective yet, although I have dabbled in 2nd person and 3rd.The idea of writing from the perspective of a woman, or someone who isn't 'me' in different circumstances is something I have never considered.

    Cool blog, Squidge.

    Most Best,

    1. With your writing Prop, you might not think you can get into your own/character's head, (yet - just wait til you've done the course!) but you certainly get into the reader's head and create some of the most emotive scenes I've had the pleasure of reading.

      To me, that's a much cleverer way of creating PD, because the reader experiences what your character felt at that moment - even though you weren't consciously striving for that effect.

      Looking forward to hearing how you get on in the course... x

  4. Hi Squidge

    I am pretty new to writing, but I’m finding Voice and Psychic Distance intriguing subjects (or intangible things!) at the moment and I’ve been following your blogs.

    Just thought I'd pass on that during the recent ‘Flying leap Course’ with the Word Cloud a book was recommended called the Beautiful Indifference by Sarah Hall (a collection of short stories). I believe, she writes using a very close psychic distance, even though she uses first, second and third person narrators. I loved reading this book (I didn’t find it unsettling or uncomfortable —but everyone’s different!) and I always refer to it, when I’m trying to get close and personal :-)


  5. I'm like you, Squidge, in that I don't like reading too much PD5. When I write, I never seem to get closer than a PD4 because anything closer seems forced or not real (if that makes sense).
    Have you ever tried those writing exercises where you write solidly for ten minutes, letting your words spill onto the page knowing that nobody will ever see them except you? Sometimes, just sometimes, there's a hint of something in those words that, once explored, can take you deeper than you might otherwise have gone.
    Just a thought... :)


    1. Hiya, Sea...yep, I've tried that pouring out of the subconscious thing...but I still never get to PD5...restrained, even then! But it's a;ways worth trying - and trying - and trying again!

  6. I could have written this blog, K. I believe that the story comes first - I feel uncomfortable being in a characters head and prefer to have story, most thoughts and actions described by the author. So, that's the way I write. I guess I'm strange... Stevie x