There I was, sitting in my writer’s workshop at Hamline. It was a terribly cold January. The streets were piled with mountains of snow. Inside, the classrooms were toasty, and my toes tingled as they warmed. My workshop leaders, Anne Ursu and Marsha Chall, guided us in discussing the elements of craft in our work. As a novice writer, I copiously took notes while everyone else chimed in. Then the term Psychic Distance was tossed in the wind like it was common as character.
“Psychic What? Please don’t tell me that we have to be clairvoyant, too?”
Marsha C read my thoughts. “Do you know need me to explain?” she asked. She shared that PD is a term that John Gardner wrote about in his book, The Art of Fiction. It’s the “distance the reader feels between himself and the events of the story.” It’s like a camera taking a panoramic view and then zooming in closer, or vice-versa. (not her words exactly.)
There are tons of wonderful examples found in great novels, especially by our Hamline staff. But I ran across a light one in Robert Cormier’s, I Am the Cheese. I chose this specific passage because of it’s brevity.
I am riding the bicycle and I am on Route 31 in Monument, Massachusetts, on my way to Rutterburg, Vermont, and I’m pedaling furious because this is an old-fashioned bike, no speeds, no fenders, only the warped tires and the brakes that don’t always work and the handlebars with cracked rubber grips to steer with. A plain bike – the kind my father rode as a kid years ago. It’s cold as I pedal along, the wind like a snake slithering up my sleeves and into my jacket and my pants legs, too. But I keep pedaling, I keep pedaling (1).