Posted by: nancycurteman | February 18, 2015

How Mystery Writers Use Narrative Distance

Bookmark and Share

In a mystery novel, narrative distance is the difference between the reader’s perspective and the point of view character’s perspective. It can go from the reader experiencing what characters experience (close) to watching them experiencing it (far). There is no right or wrong narrative distance. Narrative distance should suit the story the mystery author is writing. Mystery writers may choose to use near zero narrative distance or a far distance depending on the chapter, scene, or the story.

Far narrative distance puts space between the POV character and the reader. A far narrative distance can make the reader feel like the author is telling instead of showing the story. A zero narrative distance really puts the reader inside the POV’s head. Carried to extreme it can make the reader feel unnecessarily entangled in the character’s emotions.

What should a mystery writer do? The answer is use close or far narrative distance where appropriate in the novel. Here are two examples to illustrate my point—one where far narrative distance is needed and one in which close or even zero narrative distance is appropriate.


Far Narrative Distance

In my novel, Murder on the Seine, I needed a description of setting that my characters would see as they approached a small village in the Pyrenees but that would not need reactions from them that would detract from the story plot:

“Half-timbered stone houses appeared signaling the outskirts of Tare. As they crested a hill the town appeared below them. Cradled in a ring of Pyrenees foothills, it dozed in the shadow of a steep, craggy mountain.”


Close Narrative Distance

In my novel, “Murder Casts a Spell, I wanted my readers to feel the excessive South African heat my character was experiencing without telling the reader my character was hot.

Mandisa reached into an apron pocket, pulled out a lace-trimmed handkerchief, and swabbed her brow and neck. She checked the centigrade wall thermometer and moaned. Thirty-six degrees. Already the corrugated metal building radiated heat like a furnace, and the sun hadn’t even hit its zenith. She gulped down a glass of water, upped the desk fan speed to high and directed the air toward her face.


Mystery writers must let their story dictate their choice of narrative distance. The correct choice depends on the effect you want in each segment of your novel.

More tips:

How to Open a Mystery Novel

Questions to ask before adding details to your Mystery Novel



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: