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Psychic Distance



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In his book The Art of Fiction, John Gardner defines psychic distance as “the distance the reader feels between himself and events in the story.” He goes on to give the following examples to show how a writer can create different levels of psychic distance through variations in third person point of view (P.O.V.). Notice how in the first example, the character feels like a stranger to the reader, while in the last example, the reader almost feels like she is the character:
  1.  It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of the doorway. (Lots of psychic distance from the character: the character feels like a stranger to the reader.)
  2. Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms. (Some psychic distance: The character has an identity, but the formal name makes the reader feel like she is meeting him for the first time.) 
  3. Henry hated snowstorms. (Little psychic distance: Being on a first name basis with the character makes him feel familiar—like a friend or family member.)
  4. God, how he hated these damn snowstorms. (No psychic distance: The pronoun “he”—along with the informal language—makes the reader put herself in the character’s shoes.)
As a writer, moving across the spectrum of psychic distance allows you to control the reader’s relationship with the characters on the page… but it’s a skill that takes a bit of practice. For this prompt, try beginning a story four different times, each with a different level of psychic distance, as Gardner demonstrates above. 

For inspiration, check out the works of Community Ambassadors black_and_red_ink and AbbyMayHampsen as they try their hands at creating psychic distance.