Narrative distance


The concept of narrative distance

Narrative distance is about how close the reader gets to a character's internal experience.

The author John Gardner gave a classic description in his book The Art of Fiction, in which he broke narrative distance into five levels.

Here's an example of each:

Level 1 (Bird's eye)

It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.

Level 2 (Wide)

Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.

Level 3 (Mid)

Henry hated snowstorms.

Level 4 (Close)

God how he hated these damn snowstorms.

Level 5 (Internal)

Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing and plugging up your miserable soul…

Can you see how we start way outside the character, so far that they don't even have a name or personality—they are just a figure?

And then how we progressively get closer, so that by the end we are 'inside' their head, listening to them talk to themselves?

Narrative vs physical distance

In this lesson, we're going to practice writing at each of these levels, so you can get a feel for the difference.

But first, let's get some inspiration.

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