A question of scale

I am pottering in the garden, watering the flowers in my window box. I have my camera to hand and I take a pic, not of the whole box but a section in the middle showing the multiple flowers coming from a single Chrysanthemum plant.

Chrysanthemum plant in my window box

I move in and focus upon a single bloom. I then put a macro lens onto my camera and get down to clusters of individual petals within the flower. This provides a simple illustration of scale. If I were to move much further in the micro direction I would need to to augment the lens of my eye with that of a microscope. Moving out to a broader view, it would be possible to include the Chrysanthemum plant in a wide angle shot of the whole wall upon which the window box is attached. A wide angle or fish-eye lens is the other side of the coin to the microscope.

Focus upon a single flower

Focus upon the petals within a single flower

The question of scale assumes a point of view. The three photographs of my Chrysanthemum plant provide macro and micro views, relative to where I am standing, which is roughly speaking about a metre away from the plant. If I stand a long way away from something, it appears much smaller. Then, I can only discern things that, in absolute terms, are big (like mountains) and the small things (like flowers) blend into the background and are indistinguishable. When sketching a landscape it is a big mistake to put too much fine detail into objects located in the far distance (such as trees or houses).

If you can see something, then you can describe it (no matter how imperfectly). Where language strains at the seams to provide an adequate tool for such a description, authors have recourse to analogy, metaphor, or even poetry (considered by some to be the ultimate semantic weapon). The issue of scale in the visual world cannot be avoided when writing fiction. However, fiction would be somewhat dull if it was devoid of action. Action always takes place within a spatio-temporal context. In fiction, the question of scale applies not only to space, but also to time.  A century is to a lanscape, as a year is to a tree, or a second is to the petal of a flower.

Clock time (or calendar time) is rather like lattitude and longitude in terms of pinpointing a node in the spatio-temporal matrix. Here and now nail it down to the personal pronoun I. I am always in the present, floating inexorably through calendar time. I can look back into the past and remember my experience of moving through time and space, reliving the now continuum as if it were happening, well… now. I can call upon my creative reserves to relive my past how it might have been, in what-if fashion. My good friend Dr Freud might even suggest that my past has been surreptitiously and creatively re-worked in order that to provide a better fit with the unconscious desires I harbour; what is more, I know nothing of this.

I can look forward into the future and imagine how it will be as I move through the time-space continuum. If I don’t like what I see, there may be things that I can do in order to optimise the likelihood of a better trajectory. If there is no food in the kitchen, a trip to the supermarket will usually be enough to ensure the avoidance of hunger tomorrow, at least in the affluent west.

An author has many choices to make. Will the fiction be told from the present looking back to the past? Will the point of view provide a god-like and privileged access to the minds and activities of all characters at all times? Will the reader see the world through the eyes of just one character? Will the present tense first-person perspective suck the reader into an alternate reality second only to that of the dream world?

And what of the songwriter, the singer, and the storyteller? A casual glance towards the yellow flowers in my window box has led me to the core of what interests me as a writer and performer. I look forward to exploring, in some future blog, the implications of these ideas for my creative writing and performance. For the moment, my dear blogophile, I feel that this provides plenty enough to think about.

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