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4.5 Narrative distance, tone, and perspective

6 min readjanuary 25, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing


AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Introduction

In guide 4.4, we looked at different styles of narration. In this guide, 4.5, we’ll continue to look at other aspects of narration. This time, we'll look at the concepts of narrative distance, tone, and perspective. Narrative distance is most likely the most unfamiliar concept to you out of the three, so we’ll spend the most time on it.

Narrative Distance

What is Narrative Distance?

First, let’s define narrative distance. Here is College Board’s definition of it, which we will use as our starting point:
“Narrative distance refers to the physical distance, chronological distance, relationships, or emotional investment of the narrator to the events or characters of the narrative.” (AP Lit CED 2020)
Let’s break down each part of the definition.
  • Narrative distance: refers to the level of proximity or distance between the narrator of a story and the events or characters being described. This proximity can be physical, chronological, or emotional in nature.
  • Physical distance: refers to the physical distance between the narrator and the events or characters in the story. For example, if the narrator is describing events that are happening in the same room as the narrator, the physical distance is close. Conversely, if the narrator is describing events happening on the other side of the world, the physical distance is far.
  • Chronological distance: refers to the distance in time between the narrator and the events or characters in the story. For example, if the narrator is describing events that are happening in the present moment, the chronological distance is close. Conversely, if the narrator is describing events that happened in the past, the chronological distance is far.
The relationship between the narrator and the characters and events in the story also affects narrative distance. For example, if the narrator is a participant in the events of the story, the relationship is close and the narrative distance is shorter. Conversely, if the narrator is an observer of the events, the relationship is distant and the narrative distance is longer.
Emotional investment refers to the level of emotional engagement of the narrator with the characters and events in the story. For example, if the narrator is emotionally invested in the story, the narrative distance is close. Conversely, if the narrator is emotionally detached from the story, the narrative distance is far.

Impact of Narrative Distance

The impact of narrative distance on a story can have a significant effect on how the story is perceived by the reader. Depending on the type of narrative distance used, a story can evoke different emotional responses, create different levels of suspense or tension, and give a different level of understanding of the characters and events.
A close narrative distance, where the narrator is physically, chronologically, relationally and emotionally close to the events and characters, can create a sense of immediacy and intimacy with the story, allowing the reader to feel more involved and invested in the events and characters. This can also create a greater sense of suspense and tension, as the reader is privy to the same information as the narrator and can experience the same emotions.
A distant narrative distance, where the narrator is physically, chronologically, relationally and emotionally distant from the events and characters, can create a sense of detachment and objectivity, allowing the reader to see the events and characters in a different light. This can also create a sense of mystery, as the reader is not privy to all of the same information as the narrator and must infer meaning from the narrative.
By using different types of narrative distance, an author can manipulate the reader's experience and perception of the story, and create a different emotional response in the reader. For example, a story that starts with a close narrative distance and then shifts to a distant narrative distance can create a sense of disorientation and confusion for the reader, while a story that maintains a consistent narrative distance throughout can create a sense of stability and familiarity for the reader.
In summary, narrative distance is an important tool for authors to shape their stories and the way their readers experience them. It can be used to create different emotional responses, suspense, and to control the level of understanding of the characters and events in a story.

Tone

What is Tone? [A Refresher]

Tone refers to the attitude or overall emotional feeling that is conveyed by the narrator, characters, or speakers in a piece of writing or speech. It is the overall emotional and/or attitude that the writer or speaker wants to convey to the reader or audience. Tone can be conveyed through word choice, sentence structure, and the narrator's or speaker's point of view. 
It can be positive, negative or neutral, and it can change within a text. It is an important aspect of storytelling as it helps to create a specific mood and atmosphere and it can be used to add meaning and depth to the story or speech.
For the purposes of this study guide in particular though, to differentiate it somewhat from the references to tone in previous study guides, we’ll think of it as a result of “the perspective/attitude of narrators, characters, or speakers toward an idea, character, or situation” (College Board AP Lit CED 2020).

Impact of Tone

Tone is an important aspect of literature as it creates a specific mood and atmosphere in the text and helps to create empathy and suspense in the reader. It can be used to evoke specific emotional responses and to add depth and complexity to the story.
Tone can also be used to reveal the narrator's attitude towards the story and the characters. For example, a narrator who speaks in a neutral tone might reveal a lack of emotional involvement in the story, while a narrator who speaks in a fearful tone might reveal a sense of danger or uncertainty. By using tone, the author can create a sense of unease in the reader, and make them more invested in the story.

Perspective

What is perspective? [A Refresher]

In literature, perspective refers to the point of view or the way in which a story is told. It can refer to the narrator's position in relation to the story, or the characters' position in relation to the events. Perspective can also refer to the way in which an author presents the characters, events, and themes of the story. 
In simple terms, perspective is the lens through which the story is viewed.

Impact of perspective

The narrator’s perspective effectively determines what details will be presented to the readers (and which ones won't) and how they will be presented.
Consider adjectives and adverbs in writing. They are included typically to add detail about whatever the narrator is describing. However, an additional way of looking at them is as clues that convey the narrator’s perspective towards things.
For example:
  • The narrator describes the wind as "howling" which can convey a sense of danger or wildness.
  • The narrator describes the character's footsteps as "softly" which can convey a sense of stealth or care.
In these examples, the choice of adjectives and adverbs can be used to create a sense of tension or suspense in the reader, revealing the narrator’s perspective of fear.

Conclusion

Narrative distance is the level of proximity between the narrator and the events or characters in a story. It can be physical, chronological, relational, or emotional. This affects the reader's experience and creates different emotions, suspense, and understanding of the characters and events. Tone is the attitude or emotional feeling conveyed by the narrator, characters, or speakers in a text. It creates a specific mood and atmosphere and can be used to evoke emotions and add depth to the story. Perspective is the point of view or way in which a story is told, and it can affect how the characters, events, and themes are presented to the reader. The narrator's perspective can be revealed through word choice and can create tension or suspense.
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