What is Psychic Distance? How Bestsellers Use it

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This is best explained as the gap that the reader feels from the point of view character’s viewpoint or consciousness. When readers become so involved in a story that they find empathy for the POV character, the psychic distance is very close. When readers are distracted away from the POV character’s consciousness due to clumsy writing or author intrusion, the psychic distance widens. They are reminded that they are only reading fiction and not experiencing the story for themselves. The fictional dream is interrupted, and they are removed from the story and the consciousness of the POV character.  

Firmly seated in your POV character’s mind, readers should not only feel the story as real and lifelike but also as if they are truly experiencing the action themselves. In other words, there should be little or no psychic distance between reader and story. 

Every she thought, he thought, he heard, she heard, she saw, he saw, etc., pushes readers back — jolts them out of the comfy POV hot seat inside the character’s head, reminding them that it is the character experiencing the story and not the individual reader. 

Within the POV character’s consciousness, readers find characterization, mood and scene tone by the way the character sees the world around her. Take for instance the following two, very different descriptions of the same weather:  

The dreary sky wept from its darkness like a three-day widow.  

The fat clouds showered the city with freshness and promise of renewed life.  Mood and characterization are also provided through descriptions of cities, buildings, crowds and people. For example, for a lighter, more cheery character mood, try making a busy, crowded mall scene a positive reflection in the POV character’s thoughts — or give a bright, sunny day negative connotations to indicate a day of dread for the POV character.  

In summary, make all of the viewpoints you use in your story sympathetic, each viewpoint character emotionally tied to the events in the scene, even if it’s your antagonist’s rationalization of his misdeeds. 


 Do this by asking yourself five distinct questions:  

What does this character want?  

What does this character think about the situation?  

What does this character think of the other characters?  

How does this character feel physically?  

What is this character’s basic emotional state?