Monday, January 4, 2010

How Far Can You Go? By Morgan Mandel

As I was walking to work in Downtown Chicago and doing my best to bypass the slippery remnants of the latest snowfall, I realized how distance can be relative. Here are a few examples:
1. Temperature – What would ordinarily be a short walk seems endless on an extremely hot or cold day. Even a drive is torture, if the heat or air conditioning in the car won't function when needed.

2. Terrain – A few steps can take forever if you're trying to negotiate an icy patch. I know this for a fact. (g)
Swimming a few feet against the current can seem like a mile.

3. Injury or Illness – If you’ve hurt your hip, leg, foot, ankle, etc., walking a short distance can be time consuming. If you’ve injured your shoulder, arm or hand, lifting that member or moving it a few inches can be a nightmare.
It may seem like traveling to the end of the world for someone with heart disease or bad lungs to walk across a parking lot from the car to a store or restaurant. Even if they're dropped off by the door, it could be difficult.

4. Age - Similar to Injury or Illness – The elderly can’t usually walk as far or as fast as the rest of the population, with the exception of those who regularly follow an exercise regimen. (I know one lady over 80 who can outdo me in Fitness Class.)

5. Direction – Climbing stairs takes longer than going down stairs.

How about climbing a ladder in an elevator shaft, as the heroine does in my current release, Killer Career? That's no picnic either.

Can you think of other instances? Or, maybe you’d like to share how you’ve used distance in one of your novels.

Morgan Mandel
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  1. Stress & aniexty can make distances seem greater, too, especially when a character is upset and trying to reach a destination in a hurry.

  2. These are all great examples and a good reminder of things to take into account when writing a scene.

  3. This is definitely an area we writers should think about. I certainly know I'm moving more slowly and painfully since hurting my knee. It always bugs me when a character in a book I'm reading gets hurt then in the next scene, they're up and running as if nothing ever happened.

    Straight From Hel

  4. In my writing whenever someon is shot or stabbed or injured as in Achillis heel is cut, absolutely getting from here to there is relative indeed. What's more I have on many occasions resorted to maps when trying to decide how long it would take to drive or drag oneself from here to there in the "real" world so I don't look too foolish. If the killer has to get from downtown LA to the ballpart, how far is it? How much time does it take on a good day given traffic, etc. So this is indeed a topic of great interest. One more thing that can slow a character down from getting out of a burning building or a sinking car in the ice -- the pet or pets! Oh and when a character is injured the "time and distance" it may take inside his or her head can be exaggerated and much longer, placed in a kind of slow motion. Dean Koontz has a guy going to the ground with a knife in his chest fro three pages...

  5. I think I belong to more than one of those categories! Yikes! I am limited in my physicality because of an ankle that was fused and arthritis in my knee. But, I have a computer that I don't have to have anything special except two hands and ten fingers.

  6. I just finished a scene in my WIP where the bad guy is trying to maneuver a snowmobile with his left arm in a sling. It's not going well, but when he takes the sling off, the pain in his elbow is excruciating. Needless to say, time is passing very slowly for this guy.

  7. Age and physical limitations really change things. I remember activities I used to take part in when I was in my mid-20s that would be pretty tough to do right now--particularly some of the more grueling hikes--but I think people also tend to become more resourceful when they're older and/or have a limitation, so even greater creative thinking may be possible. :)

  8. Good reminder to writers to pay attention to these little details of time and distance and limitations. Those are easily overlooked when we are concentrating on the major points of a scene, but need to be addressed in later drafts. I appreciate a good editor who can catch those mistakes for me.

  9. I tried stretching and exercising a bit today and it's been a while. Talk about limitations. Ugh!

    I've always kind of thought that "just a few minutes" means something very different to the person inside the bathroom as opposed to the one knocking on the door from the outside, especially if it is her young child who has to go. :)


  10. You're all coming up with some great examples. I especially liked the one Cheryl gave about waiting for the bathroom. (g)

    I'm sure there are others out there, so anyone else reading this, don't hesitate to join in to agree or pass along another one.

    Morgan Mandel

  11. I also use maps to work out how long it is going to take a character to get somewhere.

  12. I can't think of a distance related one, but just time in general. A week of vacation goes by just like that (snap), but a week of work can often feel like an entire year.

  13. Debra, We're definitely on the same wave length. I've got a post ready called As Time Goes By, which will be coming to you at this blogspot, date to be determined.

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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