Narrative distance

Wrapping up

See you next time!

That's it for this lesson! What did we learn?

Overall advice

  • As a writer, you can choose a variety of psychological distances from your characters.
  • Each distance has different qualities and techniques.
  • Most stories vary their distances.
  • A very common pattern is to start further out and then get progressively closer until you arrive at a stable distance for the story, then move in or out for effect. 

Bird's eye

  • Describe a place, society, group.
  • Avoid individuals, and definitely don't name any characters.
  • Narrator can have opinions.


  • Identify individuals and groups.
  • Describe their behaviour.
  • Don't describe their thoughts or feelings.


  • Focus on one or more characters.
  • Describe their thoughts and feelings, but make it sound objective.
  • Describe their perceptions—sight, smell, taste, hearing.


  • Focus on one character.
  • Describe their thoughts and feelings, but make it sound more subjective.
  • Describe what is going on in their heads—images, sounds.


  • Merge completely with the character.
  • Describe their experience in their own voice, using the kinds of words and phrases they would use.
  • Avoid narrator opinions—the narrator should disappear into the character.


  • Narrative distance is real, but the 5 levels are an approximation. 
  • Many stories move between multiple levels of narrative distance.
When you're reading
When you're out in the world

Where did the snippets come from?

Only the Heart

Only the Heart by Brian Caswell and David Phu an Chiem

From the chaos and the fear of post-war Saigon, and the terror of pirates on the open ocean, to the triumph and tragedy of new life, Only the Heart is the story of Toan and Linh, and a family that endures the nightmare, in search of the dream.

The Pool Party

The Pool Party by Gary Soto

Rudy Herrara gets an invitation to a pool party from Tiffany Perez, the richest and most popular girl in school. Each day until the party, Rudy worries about what to wear, what kinds of dives to do and what to bring Tiffany. When the day arrives, Rudy is in high spirits. Will he make a big splash at the pool party?


Sailmaker by Rosanne Hawke

With his criminal biological father back in jail, Joel thinks all his troubles are behind him. He’s looking forward to the future with his biker foster dad, Dev. But Joel runs into trouble when he and his best friend, Mei, discover that the island lighthouse is haunted.

Where did the lesson card image come from?

The cover image for this lesson comes from a Russian illustrator called Anton Gudim, who creates comics with punchlines that rely on dramatic shifts in perspective. He'd love it if you follow him on Instagram!

Gudim cliff drop

(by Anton Gudim)

See you next time! 👋  

gudim high five meme

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