Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Far Can You Go?

This post originally appeared here at The Blood-Red Pencil on January 4, 2010, but still applies, although I've since retired from my day job.

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. (grin) 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 romantic suspense, 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.

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or CurseShort Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 


  1. I think I've used all of these in my novels. I think state of mind is also a factor. If you're rushing to get to someone in trouble, or worried about someone, the trip, regardless of how many times you may have made it before and you KNOW it's only a 15 minute walk/drive, etc., becomes endless.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. It's amazing how all these little details can make or break a scene. Good points, Morgan and Terry.

  3. With my recent ankle fracture, the first time I walked two blocks to my physical therapist it took 20 minutes, clutching my husband on one side and my cane on the other, switching frequently due to fatigue. Two weeks later I could do the same trip in 7 minutes, now four weeks later I can do it in 4! These small touches add great verisimilitude.

  4. Two-thousand words can seem like War & Peace when you don't feel like writing.

  5. Interruptions can make things difficult. Imagine a swarm of people (relatives maybe) that make it hard to just enter a room because they all have to come up with something to do or say.

  6. Distance can be a serious plot hole if not thought through. Sometimes I'll read a passage and think, that is not humanly possible and this character is not Superman. I plotted out my series Mythikas Island on a map and calculated how far the girls could go on foot in a day given the terrain and how long it would take to walk from one end of the island to the other. I wanted it to be possible even though the story was fantastical.

  7. Google Maps can be a Godsend. Mega-author John Sandford had a character working things out on a 4 hour drive--until he checked the distance and found it was more like 20 minutes. I've used that "get directions" feature many times, checking the time from point A to point B

  8. I have to agree with Diana and Terry. Distances and related activities (walking, running, driving, escaping, etc.) must be realistic or the "impossibilities" cast a pall of disbelief over the entire story. In fiction, our goal should always be to inspire the reader to suspend disbelief.

  9. Definitely, an author has a lot to check out when plotting a story. Time, distance, the character's abilities, weather, those are some items to figure out realistically. A wrong assumption can lead to a reader putting a book or e-reader down in disgust.

    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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