Today is the last day of projects at my house. The crew replacing many of my windows have been here since 10 am and are now attempting to replace the glass on the sliding glass door where my darling dog, Poppy, left hundreds of tiny scratches. Since the door is open, rather than air condition the back yard, I have turned off the central cooling unit and now sit at my kitchen nook in sticky solitude at a balmy 85 degrees.

In my letter from my editor, one of the (many) helpful things she recommended was for me to consider how I draw my scenes. “We need the zoom and pan,” she said. I think it’s relatively easy to tell what is zoom and pan in visual media. In literature, it’s a bit more tricky.

In this excerpt from A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s description of the countryside has this panning camera feel as he guides the reader through the village, the river, the plain, and the war.

In this excerpt, we (slowly) zoom in on the scene, taking in some sculptures, the chair, the cap, frescoes, and the lovely but doomed Catherine Barkley.

In each of these examples, Hemingway has guided the reader through the description, and it has a fluid, kinetic quality, much like the active panning and zooming of a camera. In writing, this movement feels more explicit since it’s words that must guide the reader through the scene. Frankly, it’s hard to put into words how this pan/zoom thing is different in words versus visual. Maybe it’s the same. The only difference is the difference between words and space and time. In other words, the medium. (Duh).

But like many things done well, if you don’t look for the pieces, you won’t notice them. It’s interesting to see what draws in the reader through Hemingway’s lengthy descriptions. Now for some reverse-engineering, here is a screenshot example from a favorite cinematography technique from Breaking Bad. One of the show’s trademarks shots is the use of what they call near/far, like this kettle that’s in the foreground, and the bokeh dramatic action in the background. How would words convey this or something like this? I’m searching for literary examples.


Hi there. I'm a writer and reserve military officer with a day job. I write fiction, professional essays on military topics, and wax philosophical about books and movies. I live in Florida with my husband, two kids, and two cats.

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How to Handle the Passage of Time in Writing – Web Diary of a Somebody · August 10, 2020 at 9:21 pm

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