Wednesday, March 9, 2011



I shy away from posts about craft because, let's face it, I'm the noob around here...but I wanted to share something I learned from a writing power greater than myself (Tracy Marchini). This one trick she suggested waaay back in my first draft is the single most important thing I learned.

Telescope: Slide one element into another and strengthen the story.

  • Telescope scenes to keep pacing strong.
  • Telescope characters to create complexity.
  • Telescope plot to keep tangents at bay.
  • Telescope sentiments to increase tension.
I don't know if telescoping is an official writerly term or anything, but I like it. My secondary character/trickster, Seyhan, was three separate guys at one point. (Talk about a personality disorder, lol!)

Matryoshka doll from UkraineImage by yasmapaz & ace_heart via Flickr
At first I couldn't see how to do it, but when I took away individual traits that didn't mesh, it worked out. Very well. So well that I couldn't stop myself from telescoping whenever I found a dry spot in the pacing, a darling floating in a paragraph on its own, a plot twist that needed more twisting... All those things didn't just jumble together either. They became clearer, as if I pulled them in for a closer look. I liken the theory to the Matruska doll of parallel universes. (Today's tie-in. :D) Multiple realities are layered into one whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. (Either that, or I should get out and smell the whatever-is-blooming-right-now. I've been in this chair too long. Do these words look like they're snaking around the page to you?)

Of course, I probably wouldn't have been able to telescope anything if I hadn't first poured it all out onto the page in the unadulterated first draft. I was hoping to avoid this step in my second ms, but now I realize a vital part of my writing process is the exploration of the story in long-hand.

Does anyone have tips on telescoping more efficiently?


PT Dilloway said...

I'm a big believer in Economy of Characters. Why have two characters if one can do the same? One time I was trying to think of a girlfriend for one character and a mother for another and then I thought--what if they're the same? One less character to create! Score.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Well I think telescoping for me means you write a small scene that gives the big picture. Through just a few lines of dialogue you can portray your character's voice, personality, appearance, humor, major dilema and their relationships with other characters. Basically saying a lot with few words.

Unknown said...

I have never heard of this but it's so cool! I try to do this with my writing but the way you described it is so unique. Thanks for the post.

Jules said...

I agree with Clarissa. And since I have not heard of it, no new tips. But I have a telescope, does that count :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Southpaw said...

I haven’t heard of this either. So, I did a google search and found an actually telescope writing tool. It slides up and down.

Old Kitty said...

Telescoping!! I love that term!!!! It's complex but seamless too!!! Wonderful!!! As I am new to this concept, I have no idea of any other way to use it efficiently!! For me it'll be trial and error!!! But it's a great idea to work from, thank you! Take care

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

really interesting- I've never thought about this before. I like it!

LTM said...

interesting... I like it! Now I feel very blonde--or possibly still car sick. I wish I could see an example of this... :D <3

Missed Periods said...

I don't know if this is considered telescoping, but in my first drafts I wrote all these scenes, but as I wrote more and more drafts, the actual scenes disappeared but I sprinkled the important bits of them into what I had.

That probably makes no sense. I'm tired. Sorry.

lotusgirl said...

Great post. This is something I've been working on. I wish I were better at it.

Unknown said...

I can't say I understand what telescoping is from the post. I understand not wanting to step on the toes of your teachers (or writing books) but I wish there'd been an example as well as a description.

Is telescoping like the idea that a scene should always be accomplishing two or more things? Or the theatrical notion that an actor's performance should never just be conveying one flat emotion, but two emotions to make the performance dynamic?

Hart Johnson said...

Such an interesting idea. I love this conceptually, but I am trying to figure out if I understand it. I THINK (being a water baby) that what you are talking about, I think of in waves... characters has a character flaw... brought out small... then circumstance magnifies it, then BIGGER circumstance makes it bigger, and suddenly he is having to live with horrible consequences of his flaw.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Olives were so much easier to get, weren't they?

@ Missed Periods: That’s basically what it means, but some elements of the scenes come too. For example, I had one scene in an underground city. The underground part was important, so I needed to slide that into some similar location, like a cistern. I couldn’t just plunk it into a sailing scene. My trickster character was three separate people until I smushed them together. I can pull them apart again if I need to, because each one is a facet, not just a footnote. For my MC, I tuck allusion to Vanadis/Freya in wherever I can, but that isn’t the same as telescoping. That’s more like layering.

@ Eileen: I see that as more of a layering idea, which is very important too.

@ Rogue Mutt: sounds vaguely oedipal... :)

@ Hart: It's related, but I think that's more of an arc than a telescope. I meant that each piece fits inside the other, not expands out. An unbroken arc is something I have to work at, because my plotting usually sags in the middle. Telescoping helps that problem.

@ Katie: Not exactly what I meant, because I'd be afraid of an info dump. But, yes, multi-tasking a scene is the end result.

Make sense? I don’t know how to explain it better. It’s just the way my head works – lol!

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

What an interesting way of talking about telescopes with relation to telling your story. Hi btw...I found your blog through the crusades. I'm a little late to the show.

Deniz Bevan said...

I might be mixing it up a little, but to me telescoping sounds a little like our March exercise on the writer's forum ( I've written my scene, but have to edit it a lot before I post it!


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