Monday, March 20, 2006

Distancing

Though you ordinarily want reader intimacy, sometimes it's best to keep the reader at arm's length — either from the story or from a character (even perhaps the protagonist) or both.

For example, especially in the opening of a novel, you don't want to the reader to feel accosted by something off-putting that is too close for comfort. He hasn't been hooked yet and may put the book down. So, if the story is grim or gruesome (especially in the beginning) or rattles the reader's cage, some authors distance it from the reader with a subtle reminder that it's fiction. Other writers, like Steven King, never pull back, except in the opening. For example, in the opening of Carrie, he pulls back by relating the rain of stones on Carrie's mother's house in the form of hard fact, but in a distancing way, as newspaper articles about the event.

Writers often do this when a story brings reader into a confrontation with the pure will to evil. The story needn't be too unreal: it may just as well be too real. For example, the story might turn the reader's world upside down by showing how evil pulls an image-switch with goodness. The reader can perplex on you and refuse to suspend disbelief, because what he's reading is a little too true and unsettling.

If a character is chillingly evil, the author might refer to him in impersonal and distancing terms instead of by character name or through a pronoun.

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