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Narrative Distance Definition


A narrative creates a fictional world by presenting the reader with characters, setting, and events. The term narrative distance describes the proximity of the story’s narrator to the subject he is describing. In other words, narrative distance is the distance between the narrator and other elements of fictional world, such as the story’s characters, setting, and events. Narrative distance ranges from small to large.

Continuum of Narrative Distance

All fictional and nonfictional narrators exist somewhere on a continuum, between virtually zero narrative distance and very large narrative distance. A narrator who reports the conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings of a character creates the smallest possible distance between herself and the character, while a narrator who reports virtually no thoughts or feelings of a character, but only his actions, creates the largest possible distance between herself and the character.

First-Person Narrator

A first-person narrator is a narrator who reports only his own thoughts, feelings, and actions using the pronoun “I." The narrative distance between a first-person narrator and the fictional world that he narrates is typically small because a first-person narrator gives the reader access to his thoughts and feelings, as well as actions. Depending on the narrative, the first-person narrator might also have additional access, to the thoughts and feelings of other characters, creating even less distance between the narrator and his fictional world.

Limited Third – Person Narrator

A limited third-person narrator is a narrator who reports her own thoughts, feelings, and actions, using the pronouns “he” or “she.” The narrative distance in this type of narrative can be just as close or small as the narrative distance in a first-person narrative because the reader is presented with the character’s thoughts and feelings as well as her actions.

Omniscient Third – Person Narrator

There are two types of omniscient third-person narrators that use the pronouns “he” or “she.” The first type reports the characters’ actions and events and the second type reports the characters’ actions, events, and characters’ thoughts and feelings. The first type of omniscient narrator does not have access to other characters’ thoughts and feelings and acts only as an observer or commentator. An observer creates a very large narrative distance between him and the fictional world. The second type of omniscient narrator does have access to other characters’ thoughts and feelings, and this access makes the narrative distance between the narrator and the fictional world close or small.

Varying Narrative Distance

The author might choose to vary the narrative distance within a story. This variation is typically done using third-person narration, in which the omniscient narrator can zoom in and out of different character’s perspectives, depending on chapter or excerpt. Varying narrative distance can give the reader access to certain aspects of a story at certain times within the story and can be quite effective in creating suspense and developing character.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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