Variations in perspective.
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
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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
as they try their hands at creating psychic distance.