Psychic Distance Writing Exercise

by Mia Martins, jaBlog! Blogger


Psychic distance can be an incredible tool for writers to manipulate the reader’s connection to a story and its characters. If used consciously and correctly, it can greatly heighten the intended effect of a scene.

First, though, what is psychic distance? Odds are that you’ve already been using and manipulating psychic distance throughout your entire writing career. Simply put, psychic distance is the space between the reader and the character’s mind. If the reader knows every one of a character’s thoughts—think stream-of-consciousness style—that’s “close” psychic distance. Alternatively, a stories where the reader knows very little to none of the character’s thoughts—think Hemingway—employ “far” psychic distance.

It’s important to point out that psychic distance is separate from point of view. While it’s more common that first person narratives are paired with close psychic distance, it is possible for a story to be in first person POV and use far psychic difference. Likewise, it’s possible—and quite common—for stories with close psychic distance to be told in third person POV.

Close psychic distance puts the reader directly inside the character’s head. It allows the reader to understand the character’s thoughts and motivations, helping the reader to empathize with the character.

Far psychic distance keeps the reader at bay, leaving them wondering and guessing at the character’s thoughts and motivations. This is useful for more understated stories, or stories where you want the reader to fill in the gaps themselves.

Take a good look at your work in progress and assess where on the spectrum of psychic distance your story falls. Are there places where a change from the usual psychic distance would amp the tension, or allow the reader to understand more?

Writing exercise. Write a short story from far psychic distance, then rewrite it from close psychic distance. Or rewrite a scene from your novel in a different psychic distance than it’s usually in, just for fun. Who knows? You may discover a better way to tell your story.



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