On Writing: Zooming Out, Zooming In

Writers often talk about zooming in or zooming out, not only as a technique to manipulate setting and time, but as a way to draw a reader’s attention toward something very specific, by way of contrast to what’s large or small around it. Because I like to write about landscape and use a character’s reaction to landscape, in particular, as a way of moving story forward, I’m always interested in these ideas. Here’s an example from a story that I wrote eight years ago (!!!) that, to me, represents some of my early experimentation with this. The beginning of the story, “The Naming of Things,” can be read at Writer’s Dojo(I don’t know why only the first section is linked; it used to be online in entirety. Maybe it still is, somehow.)

“Thursday then, we’ll have the first handful of cuts made and—crap, I
didn’t tell you. Coach wants you working with the new kicker.”

“Phillips. I know the kid. Fucker can punt like a battering ram, but
Jesus, Gates, could you give me a minute?” Jet fanned his gaze across
the field. The players huddling around Coach were difficult to
identify from where he and Gates stood at the opposite end zone, but
he recognized a few by number and remembered, for a breath or two, how
much he loved his work. Jet rubbed his eyes then touched the cut on
the side of his face. He swore to himself he wouldn’t go out drinking,
not with O’Toole, but he’d gotten whooped so bad O’Toole promised free
drinks, even for the losers. And admit it, an easy decision in light
of the breakup.

Jet groped his pockets for sunglasses. It had been a wet summer in the
valley, fields filling out in greens laced with flecks of yellow and
the predictable patches of muddied earth centerfield. Far in the
distance, modest peaks formed foothills just south of the Smoky
Mountains, each summit weathered and rounded like a bent kneecap
raised to the sky. He felt a sudden ache in his legs, a bolt of
lightning that couldn’t break out. Jet slipped his sunglasses on and
turned his back to Gates. He wanted to run, breakneck against the
breeze, yards unreeling behind him like a line of chalk, abandoning
the practice punts and drill calls, the pussy talk and macho mouth,
sprinting toward a deeper voice set somewhere below the horizon.

This video from the New York Times science section, demonstrates zooming in and and out to an extreme, and quite nicely. A team of scientists attached a GoPro camera to a balloon (a very special ballon, I’m sure). It made it all the way to outer space and back. It was found two years later by a hiker. Here’s the footage, in time lapse:


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