MFA Definitions

This is a working list of definitions I’m learning and developing as part of my MFA. Some of these words are completely new to me, others are familiar, and some were completely misunderstood. I’ll be updating this regularly so stay tuned.

  • Psychic Distance: Also called ‘Narrative Distance,’ describes the relationship the reader has with the narrator; how keenly they feel the narrator’s emotions and struggle. How much the reader connects and empathizes with the narrator. The emotional response to the narration. The more psychic distance the reader feels, the farther they feel from the narrator’s emotions.
  • Temporal Distance: The amount of time passed between the telling and what’s being told. A lot of temporal distance would be the narrator, telling his great-grandchild about something that happened to him as a young child. Little, or no temporal distance would be the narrator describing something that happened yesterday, or in the car on their way over.
  • Character Arc: How much the character has changed from the beginning of the story to the end. Some people say, the point of stories is to show character development or a full character arc.
  • Defamiliarization: Making the familiar strange. Taking a universal experience (e.g. buying a house) and making it unique (e.g. moving into a new house and finding out the last owners were murdered and the house is haunted).
  • Bathtub Story: A story that begins in the present and some event/incident/object reminds the MC/narrator of something in the past (where most of the text takes place) and then brings the narrator back to present (where the story ends). Example: Johnny is on a walk with his grandkids when he sees an old car that reminds him of his Dad’s car when he was a kid, the same car he drove in high school where he met his first love, etc. A literary example would be “The Notebook.”
  • Narrative Momentum: the author playing off the psychology (expectations, desires, etc.) of the reader.

If there are terms or words about craft and writing you’ve come across and would like defined, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to get a working definition and add it to the list.

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