Psychic Distance Exercise

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This exercise is to illustrate deep POV in an action setting with two male characters, and to accept the challenge presented by this book: Writing Character: Bringing your story to life, by William Bernhardt

In Chapter 7, Viewpoint, he states:

1. Identify the POV character in the first sentence
2. Never use their name again, only ever use he or she. (justification is that a mention of the name moves the distance further out, making the narrator appear to be more observer – less personal)
3. To avoid confusion, no other character should be referred to as he or she, always identify others by name or another identifier…

Many writers find this POV challenging because it requires you to weed out the narrator’s voice entirely. This is hard, even for me, and I love this POV.  The intimacy is unmatched, and when done right, pronouns He/She/I/Me are interchangeable. Thoughts are reported, not italicized. And by default, this POV requires more showing than telling.

But, you must know your character inside and out.  How he/she would view the world around them and how they would relay that information to the reader. This requires using their vocabulary, details, observations, and diction.

For this exercise, I’m using a snippet from one of my fanfics in progress. A scene where the POVC, Corvo, is about to assassinate Fairchild, a corrupted religious leader.

Some things to note: The fandom is Dishonored. The genre is fantasy/steampunk. And the Void is a dream-like realm where an immortal being known as the Outsider dwells. This realm is the source of magic for the world of Dishonored.  Also, Transverse = teleport.

“Come out, assassin,” said Fairchild with a smug sneer, his beady eyes glittering. “My sister Oracle warned me that a demon would attack during the Fugue Feast, but stars bless her feeble mind, I did not take her seriously. Our dear sisters see demons everywhere, in everything. Yet, here you are, as foretold. I assume you used black magic to get past my Warfares. Spawn of the Outsider. You cannot harm me.” Fairchild unsheathed his sword in one graceful move and assumed en garde. “Face me, witch.”

Who was he to deny a dead man’s last request? [Corvo Attano] sheathed his weapons and stepped into the light with a deep mocking bow. “As you command, High Overseer.”

No gaping astonishment, or gasp of awe at his appearance. A little disappointing, but then again, everyone in Karnaca knew him either by rumor or myth. Only a few trusted souls knew him by truth.

“Ah, the Shadow of Armas.” Fairchild squinted as if trying to see past the mask. “You are here at his behest?”

“You picked the wrong time to visit Serkonos, sir.” He withdrew the scroll and tossed it on the floor. “Your orders of execution, and of all those who follow you.”

Fairchild stared at the scroll as if it had just shat on his boots, and sputtered, “That fool has lost his mind! His entire court will be executed for high treason!”

“The Duke is willing to risk all of Serkonos to be free of the Abby’s yoke. It’s been around our necks for too long.”

Without changing his stance, Fairchild withdrew his pistol and cocked the hammer. “Have you been whispering in the Duke’s ear, Shadow? Using your dark arts to manipulate and beguile the righteous? The people say you never speak because the Duke cut out your tongue. Perhaps I should give that rumor truth. The pretty lilt in your voice tells me you’re a native of this island, but that nasal from the northern isles suggests some time abroad. Where do you hail from? Gristol or Morley?”


Fairchild’s thick brows became one, then separated again. The pistol wavered. “You are Daud.”

He started laughing. Not that it was funny, really, but the irony alone deserved a good chuckle. If only a certain someone had heard that proclamation — but no, that someone was too busy playing mystical guru to a bunch of street rats and thieves to be bothered with trivial matters such as war. Still, Daud’s reaction would have been fun to watch, maybe even more entertaining than Fairchild puffing up his chest like an affronted crane and screeching with pious indignation.

“Filth! Vermin cannot mock the holy! They crawl on their bellies and gorge themselves on the dead! And you, Daud, you are the lowest creature, the most vile. You slither through the catacombs beneath our grand city and think the light cannot touch you. But it can. And it will. You will burn, witch. Like all your kind.”

The rant itself didn’t offend him. Every fanatic that followed the Abby sang the same tired old tune, but now he had ruffled Fairchild’s feathers well and good — and judging from the white-knuckled grip on the pistol — this old bird was ready to start shooting. A sleep dart would end the tantrum, but those things took forever to wear off. And executing a snoring target seemed…unsporting.

If the High Overseer wanted a witch, then he’d give him a witch.

Space warped around him and he Transversed. Fairchild shrieked at the sudden loss of his pistol and sword, and made a mud-crab scramble under the nearest workbench. In different circumstances, the sight of that white-clad, pompous rear smacking the bench as it wiggled underneath might have brought on another chuckle or two, but he didn’t have the luxury of chasing this fool all night. One bullet, one arrow – that’s all it would take. But would it be enough? That boy cooling on the floor deserved justice, as did every victim tortured and killed at Fairchild’s elegant hands.

No, an example had to be made, a warning to all future High Overseers who thought they were above the law.

The wall behind the bench and the crates to either side prevented escape, boxing Fairchild inside a dark cubbyhole where the only thing visible were the whites of his wide, unblinking eyes. Not the brightest High Overseer in the Abby was he? He aimed his pistol at the cringing lump in the shadows and said: “Out. Now.”

The lump didn’t move, but loosed a high-pitched cackling giggle before hissing one word: “Witch,” and retreated further into the gloom. One of the crates started rocking, followed by unmistakable sounds of rummaging and labored breathing. Searching for a weapon? Bad, bad High Overseer.

The crate splintered with his first and last warning shot. The lump twitched with a yelp that dissolved into another disturbing titter. People reacted differently to seeing magic. Some shrugged it off, others panicked and ran. And some just broke down. Seemed the High Overseer belonged to the latter group, which didn’t surprise him. The higher they were, the deeper they plunged. From the state of this torture chamber, and latest victim, Fairchild had been halfway there already. The baubles and trinkets inside those glass jars weren’t there for storage, they were souvenirs, and those clothing piles had been sorted with care. One pile to burn, the other to…keep. Twisted son-of-a-bitch.

More shuffling under the bench, a flash of black boot, then a defiant shove of the crate he’d just shot. Crazy bastard, but smart. His target must have realized by now the reason he wasn’t riddled with bullets or chewed on by summoned rats was because a worse fate had been planned. And this had become a stalling game, one he didn’t have patience for. He hunkered down and gestured with the pistol. “I said out, High Overseer. Or I’ll leave your corpse to rot where it falls so everyone will know how you cowered like a timid mudlark before I shot you.”

When all else fails, insult their pride. The lump seemed to consider this proposal, and accept it with a hesitant shift forward. He backed up to give Fairchild more room, but something plinked under the workbench, something metal, something familiar. Then that something rolled toward him in what seemed like slow motion. A canister, or —

Realization hit too late.


He threw himself to the side as it went off, but instead of his limbs flying in every direction, his lungs flooded with expanding chalk. Fire inside his eyes, in his throat, up his nose, burning and turning his tears to ash. Not a grenade. Chokedust.

His hands closed around an imaginary pistol. Magic surged so hard his skin prickled with icy heat. He Transversed into a table, knocking it over. Then a man-sized shadow charged at him through the cloud of smoke, screaming words that made no sense, and swinging something he should probably get away from. He Transversed again, but he was like a panicking bird flying in the wrong direction. His nose collided with the wall. Lights and black spots exploded behind his eyes.

He hit the floor.

Fairchild pounced on top of him, lips peeled back in a frozen snarl. Thick blood filled his throat, choking him from the inside as Fairchild’s hands squeezed from the outside. Sword. He needed his sword. He pawed at his belt and at the vise closing off his air. Fuck, where was his sword? Bright specks of color popped and sparkled in his vision, edges going grayer and grayer, and all the while, Fairchild cackled like the very thing he claimed to hate.

“Hah! Writhe, witch! Writhe and die! Your master won’t save you. You are nothing to him – nothing!”

The hands around his throat now clutched the sides of his head. He managed one, desperate gasp before the back of his skull slammed into stone.

Fairchild and the room vanished. The pain numbed. The Void expanded around him, enveloped him in hues of twilight and mist. Fragments of reality hung in the airless space: leafless trees upside down, their roots above intertwined like vines. Rocks in the air turning in place. Slabs of cobblestone floated next to the skeletons of buildings. Chains linked these islands one to another, strung from impossible points, and connecting to others unseen. No sensation other than helpless abeyance. Under his floating feet, a vortex churned, bottomless and forever. His soul mirrored the chaos below him.


There are many more elements to this POV discussed in Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s book: “Rivet Your Readers with Deep POV”.

  • Some of my own observations about Deep POV:

It’s like roleplaying. This isn’t what  you would do, but what you would do in the shoes of your character – if you had their personality, strengths and weaknesses.

How would Corvo perceive everything happening to him during these frenzied moments? What would I, if on the ground with some nutcase on top of me, be feeling in Corvo’s body, thinking with Corvo’s thoughts? It’s how I focused on the sensations and panic – using brief descriptions, short sentences. I slow down only when Corvo blacks out and travels to the Void.

This entry was posted in Deep POV, Dishonored, Examples, Fanfiction, Preview, Psychic Distance, Writing/General. Bookmark the permalink.

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