Far, Middle, Near

One of the higher level editing I’m tackling right now in my work involves setting. I grew up reading a lot of Sci-Fi that often felt like you were in an empty room. It was the norm for that style and time. Like fashion, genre writing changes. Evolves. Gets better!

So, my writing tends toward the white room syndrome. I have to work at finding a balance – not so much description that the reader’s eyes glaze over, but not so little they are unmoored and lost.

One of the remedies for this is to describe setting in far, middle, and near viewpoints. And, I have a brilliant example to show you!

This is from Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas:

Fal ‘Ngeestra watched the shadows of the clouds move on the distant plain, ten kilometers away horizontally and one vertically, and then, with a sigh, lifted her gaze to the line of snow-capped mountains on the far side of the open grassland. The mountain range was fully thirty kilometers from her eyes, but the peaks were sharp and distinct in the thin air which they invaded with their rock and brilliant icy whiteness. Even at that distance, through that much atmosphere, their glare startled the eye.

She turned away, walking along the broad flagstones of the lodge terrace with a stiff-legged gait unsuited to her lack of years. The trelliswork above her head was covered in bright red and white flowers and cast a regular pattern of shadows over the terrace beneath ; she walked through light and shade, her hair dim then shining gold in turn as each halting step moved her from shadow to sunlight.

Now, while there are some stylistic sentence structure choices here I disagree with, the amount of visualization and information gained is wonderfully done. This is the first time we’ve met this character, Fal. It’s also a new scene, so the author knew the reader would need significantly more grounding for us to keep our metaphorical footing.

I could feel those light bars moving over Fal’s hair. I could feel the light from the mountains. The broad flagstones! It’s just so nicely done, I needed to share.

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10 thoughts on “Far, Middle, Near

        1. some people hate how he does that thing about making his setting almost a character (Perdido Street Station was hotly debated over it) but i think it’s kind of magical. his books are long and unrelievedly grim, but the writing is unbelievable.

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