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On of our favorite stories is Paul Bowles’ “A Distant Episode.” There are many cues that can be pulled from this story about narrative, character development, dialogue, the list goes on. Recently someone in the group brought it up to illustrate the effects of precise image placement.

Bowles

The story is about a Professor who comes to the fictitious Arab-speaking city of Aïn Tadouirt after not having been there for many years. From the moment we meet this man, it is evident that he desperately wants to belong and is willing to go to the ends of the earth to understand and be understood by this foreign culture. The story follows him as his journey becomes more and more treacherous, due to the choices he makes.

As the Professor literally walks into danger, Bowles gives us a snapshot of the cozy and safe hotel room he has left behind.

He was now well down the gigantic cliff, but the moon, being directly overhead, gave as much light as ever. Only the wind was left behind, above, to wander among the trees, to blow through the dusty streets of Aïn Tadouirt, into the hall of the Grand Hotel Saharien, and under the door of his litte room.

We all had the sense that in this moment you are not just heading for the unsafe but are getting a glimpse of the safe alternative, and that alternative creates more tension as well as continues to build character (by highlighting the Professor’s choice). Are you crafting image placement in your work? How can you drop crumbs for a reader to heighten tension or build character?

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