Do our characters have to be two thousand miles apart, or three miles apart? If we are trying to convey a sense of distance, remember that distance is relative. Let’s say that our protagonist lives in Los Angeles while her mother lives in Akron. In the first draft, the mother flits in and out of her life while also holding down a full-time job in her hometown. The story might feel burdensome with the characters either engaged in long phone conversations or flying back and forth. Unless the true distance is germane to the story, we might ask why we have placed the mother on the other side of the country. Is it because this is where our own mother actually lives? Fiction writers frequently pull the wrong details from their lives. Perhaps the mother feels that she lives too far away, while the daughter feels that she’s too close. Perhaps the author felt this when her mother was living in Akron, but when she puts this into a story, the reader does not experience a sense of the mother’s intrusion. When we look at what we are attempting to express we will find a sense of proximity that best suits our story.


It is important when using measurements of time and distance to not assume that our reader understands the context. Running a mile means different things to different people. To write “He stood fifty yards from the tiger,” could indicate danger or a lack of danger. What does it mean specifically for the character? Unless we provide our reader with context, its meaning will be lost.

To say, “Gloria stood five foot five,” does not necessarily mean anything. Although writers do this all the time, objective descriptions without a little authorial guidance will confuse our reader. What is the author’s reason for telling us her height? Is there something we are to cull from this description? Will her height affect the plot later on? Let’s look for ways to tell our reader through description something that adds meaning to our story. For example: “Gloria was of average height, average weight, and average intelligence. The only thing that wasn’t average about her was that she was the daughter of Johnny Chance, the world’s fastest go-cart driver.”
Remember that while you are busy describing the world of your story, your reader is searching for meaning.