Wednesday, September 05, 2018


One aspect of literary creation is the use of something originally given a vocabulary by image work like photography or painting.  It is the idea of close-ups, medium distance, and long-range shots, depending on the closeness of the camera and the strength of the lens.  More recently we've seen extreme closeups of eyes and bees and even micro-closeups inside the body, looking down circulatory channels and watching cells operate.  The artful choices of the alternatives can be emotionally powerful.  If the imagery is moving, like video, it's possible to go from one focus to another while not leaving the frame.

I watch these strategies in good films.  In "Mystery Road" with Judy Davis and Aaron Perderson, the Australian Outback is the stage and camerawork searches the fabulously strange terrain.  In one scene of violence it is somehow managed so that the people struggling and their vehicles are seen from considerable distance on a kind of horizon across the bottom of the screen in a striking miniaturization of the action.  Some years ago the Western called "The Big Country" (I think) did something similar with two men in conflict pounding away at each other while the camera pulled far enough away that it must have been on a helicopter.  Tiny struggling ants on a vast horizon were a strong comment on what seemed so vital to the men.

At the other "near" extreme, especially in scenes of love-making, we often see closeups of eyes as though looking through the close but other eyes of the face-to-face lover and the moving flesh is shown in sectional closeups that sometimes make it difficult to tell which part of the anatomy we're looking at -- folds, bulges, overlaps, curves.  (The actors report that it is disconcerting to imitate intimacy with the cold eye of the camera about five inches from one's face.)

But when writing, one doesn't need a camera nor is the writer confined only to sight and sound.  For instance:  "The tiny pulse of her carotid artery, just below her ear, just below the delicate line of her jaw, began to speed up silently.  He put his lips gently against it and tasted the salt of her moistening skin."

Then the writer can pull back a little.  "She lay extended on the crisp olive of her sheets, her hair thrown back across the pillow and her arms out to the sides.  She was almost purring like a cat."  Then a little more.  "The candles that have been obligatory since Hollywood began to use them were flickering on the bureau and the dressing table.  Their scent mingled and moved in the breeze from the window."

And more, since the window makes a good transition clue to moving outdoors.  "Across the yard another window was dark but a figure stood there, barely perceptible between the curtains, staring at the candle-lit square with its moving curtains."  The writer is omniscient.  "His heart beat so loudly that he wondered if the lovers could hear it across the yard."

Pull away more.  "The houses stood side-by-side, only separated by a stretch of lawn, on a quiet street where very little ever happened.  Or maybe it just didn't happen in plain sight."

Pretend  you're a drone.  "A few miles away the lights of the city brightened under a lifting sky.  Still more miles away the molten sea under a silver moon was gleaming but the water was about to darken into the roughness of an oncoming storm."

Now that it feels as though something is bound to happen, you can see it from far away.  "The weather satellite was showing the giant whorl of a storm forming, though it was too new to have a name yet."  

It's easy to foreshadow that there is about to be a major catastrophe and that the plot might involve trying to save a woman, two men striving for a common goal in spite of jealousy because of both loving the woman.  Does she live?  Does she turn to one more than the other?  Do THEY die?  Or one of them?  Off you go.

You could take a swerve.  "The increasing wind made the curtains fly out from their windowsills farther and with more force.  One gust pushes the hem of the filmy material into the flame of a candle.  As the man and woman neared the semi-conscious bliss of sexual climax, a flickering light traveled up and up.  The watcher across the yard saw it."

So did he do anything?  Now you can go to the psychological.  "The man was not a rival lover but rather the woman's father.  He both loved and hated her.  He didn't like the real flesh and blood person who defied him, even after he had built her a house of her own to escape her mother.  But he loved the idea of her, the potential, the myth he had built around her in which she brought him honor because of her achievements.  She was a dancer."

Now you can run with your metaphor, the destroying storm.  "Smoke began to suffocate the love-drugged couple on the bed until it was too late for them to understand what was happening.  The man in the other window saw the billowing, the snuffing of the candles in the oxygen shortage and then the replacement of candle light with fire light as the room itself was consumed.  But superimposed he also saw his dancing daughter in her swirling robes, barefoot like Isadora Duncan with her scarves and shawls, laughing as she leapt and crept across the stage, while the audience sat still in their seats, afraid to miss any part of this performance."

And you can say something pretentious:  "Rain began too late to save the house.  The man turned away, just as his wife came into the dark room, horrified but somehow satisfied that the house across the way and its inhabitant were now gone, out of their lives, in a storm of fire as potent and destructive as the woman had been."

That began as a little thread but by fooling around with the near/far dimension, grew into a bit of drama.  I didn't know this was going to "happen."

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