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  • Kristin Noland

Reader-Character Intimacy




What is reader-character intimacy?


It's how close the reader gets to the characters through the narrator. It involves POV and narrative distance.


1st person is innately intimate, but 3rd person can be as well by closing the narrative distance.


Using differing narrative distances, you can create emotional intimacy between your readers and your characters while revealing plot and setting by moving away when the situation calls for it.


What is narrative distance?


Narrative distance is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the distance between your narrator and the character.


While narrative distance is a continuum, there are five major distances:


1. Very Far Away

2. Far Away

3. Moderately Close

4. Close

5. Intimate


Let’s take a closer look at these individually and with examples before we put it all together.


1. Very Far Away


This mainly involves setting description. It is the farthest away from the character you can get.


Example:


It was October and raining in Vespar. The flat-topped roofs could only hold the rain for so long. Fountains shot over the drab gray buildings to the concrete sidewalk and kept those who were left inside.


See how this sets the scene from a distance. A bird's eye view of the city, then down to empty streets, where, of course, something will happen next.


It is best to use the Very Far Away distance at the beginning of a scene.


2. Far Away


Can involve introducing characters on a basic level yet has a somewhat closer feel.


Example:


While Amy Witchinger disliked the rain as much as any Vesparian, she braved leaving her apartment building.


We have been introduced to the character and know something about her. It doesn’t tell us much, but it’s something.


It has a bit of a closer feel. Think of a movie where there is a shot of an incoming storm, then closes in on one person.


3. Moderately Close


This mid-range gives more insight to a character yet still says at a distance.


Example: She had always hated rain, especially the cold rain drenching her.


Moderately close can reveal more about the character and how the setting affects her.


Close


Close delves farther into the character by showing the why behind what the character thinks what they do.


Example: Her glasses steamed up. Drops pelted her head. Rainwater slid down the nape of her neck, under her shirt to her back, making her shiver.


Now we are getting into specifics. While it is still a list of sorts, it explains why she hates the rain at this moment.


Intimate


Intimate an be either internal thoughts or insight into what they are thinking.


External example: If she was allowed to use her powers to stop it from falling, she would have.


Internal example: I could make it stop, but how much trouble would I get into?


Both of these examples are intimate and get into the character’s thoughts.


Let’s put it all together…


It was October and raining in Vespar. The flat-topped roofs could only hold the rain for so long. Fountains shot over the drab gray buildings to the concrete sidewalk and kept those who were left inside.

While Amy Witchinger disliked the rain as much as any Vesparian, she braved leaving her apartment building. She had always hated rain, especially the cold rain drenching her. Her glasses steamed up. Drops pelted her head. Rainwater slid down the nape of her neck, under her shirt to her back, making her shiver. I could make it stop, but how much trouble would I get into?



So, in two short paragraphs, we have gone from being very far away from the character to inside her head.


Can I skip degrees of narrative distance?


Absolutely. In fiction, Very Far Away is rarely used, and when it is, it’s mostly in literary fiction.


For quite some time, fiction has been trending toward close narration. That said, your novel shouldn’t be written in just one distance, and some distances can be skipped without a harsh transition.


For instance, you can go from Moderately Close to intimate without it being too difficult for your reader, but you don’t want to go from Very Far Away to Intimate or it will jar the reader and push them right out of your story.


Moderately Close to Intimate:


Amy had always hated rain, especially the cold rain. If she was allowed to use her powers to stop it, she would have.


Very Far Away to Intimate:


It was October and raining in Vespar when Amy Witchinger braved leaving her apartment building. I could make it stop, but how much trouble would I get into?


The first seems more natural, while the second one is harsh.


The reader may become confused as to why they are in the character’s head so soon. The jump is too fast.


What about increasing the distance?


Obviously, the narrator won't be staying inside the character's head for the rest of the story, so you need to back away from the character a little slower or use an outside force to shock the narrator out.


Intimate to Moderately Close:


I could make it stop, but how much trouble would I get into?


She took a deep breath to prepare for her dash to the hospital, put her backpack over her head and ran.


Intimate to Far Away with a shock:


I could make it stop, but how much trouble would I get into?


A thunderclap shot overhead. She jumped and put her backpack over her head.



Mastering narrative distance takes practice.


But it's imperative to create intimacy between your readers and your characters.


Giving them bits of information from various distances helps ground the reader in the story and reveal important characteristics of characters and settings.


Gentle transitions are better in most cases, but mixing it up has its positives too.


Remember the Narrative Distance continuum.


  1. Very Far Away

  2. Far Away

  3. Moderately Close

  4. Close

  5. Intimate


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