KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. NO! GET CLOSE: Some thoughts on Narrative Distance

When beginning writers first learn the rule “show, don’t tell,” many make the mistake of never using the device of “telling.” Both techniques are important and have their purpose, but they aren’t set in granite. Tied into these guidelines is another technique useful in fiction and nonfiction alike, that of narrative distance.


Narrative distance is how far a writer is from the story. Writers can give readers both a wide view and a closeup view. Riding on a country lane, for example, a person may see farms and crops and barns and animals – that’s the wide view. For a closeup, writers will visit the farm and describe details about it and the farmer.

Fiction and Nonfiction Narrative Distance


Wide-angle: An overview or synopsis of the topic.

Closeup: Delving into the specifics of the topic.


Wide-angle:     Describing a scene or setting in an objective manner.

Closeup:          Showing a character’s emotions, motivations, personalities, etc.

Fiction and Nonfiction

Wide-angle telling is a great way to give readers a break and, although constant telling is boring, constant closeup showing is exhausting. That’s why we writers need to keep our writing balanced between the two.

So, what about your current work in progress? Is it well-balanced?

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