Narrative Distance and Deep Third-Person


2/12/20241 min read

Narrative or psychic distance is a measure of connection between the narrator and reader—how accessible and unfiltered the narrator's perceptions and emotions are to the reader.

This is why POVs are sometimes described as the location of the narrator: free-floating or perched on one specific character’s shoulders, residing in or outside of a character’s brain or eyes, etc.

Here's an excerpt from J. D. L. Rosell's The Legend of Tal: A King's Bargain that illustrates how deep third-person can aid in immersion by reducing narrative distance to almost nothing.

  • But when it came to killing quetzals, there never was good ground. He heard the buzz of their wings churning the air as they swiftly approached. No point in being quiet now. Quetzals hunted by smell, and they would have already caught theirs. Though, he suspected, it was by another sense that they had tracked them this far."

In a POV with more distance between the reader and character, most of this paragraph would have been italicized to denote thought (and perhaps reworded a bit). But in deep third, the character’s thoughts and perceptions ARE the narration.

It's easy to see why narrative distance and immersion are sort of two sides of the same coin. The more middlemen there are in relating a character's experience to you, the less immediate that experience will feel.

That said, full immersion and immediacy might not always be what's best, and we'll need to talk soon about why and how this excerpt actually reduces narrative distance at times.