In my writing, I find that although the level of detail in something I am writing is a spectrum, there are two distinct categories for which most instances fall into only one of the two.

The first category is what I call "close-up" (by analogy with cinematography) or "zoomed in" writing. For example:

He opened the desk's sole drawer and looked inside; nothing. Next, he ran his fingers along all of the edges, looking for catches that might open hidden compartments. His fingers brushed over a slightly raised area on the desk's underside; he applied a little pressure, and a hidden drawer sprung out from the side of the desk.

The second category I call "zoomed out" narrative; I think about it as analogous to a cinematic "long shot" or "distance shot". The same example as above:

He searched the desk and found a secret compartment.

Of course, these categories are somewhat relative and you could "zoom out" even further (eg. "A comprehensive search of every minister's office turned up only one hidden compartment in Minister Charles' desk, which held..."), but I think the meaning is clear.

My question: Is there a single word or phrase to describe:

a) A "zoomed-in" narrative or narrative style?

b) A "zoomed-out" narrative or narrative style?

c) The dichotomy of the two?

Please note that there's no shortage of words to adequately describe the above; I'm interested in a word or phrase which specifically refers to them, for use in referring to them in an academic context.

  • 4
    Detailed or broad-stroke description. The second one is metaphoric from painting, but anything can have details. Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 20:43
  • microscopic and macroscopic might work, or micro- and macro- in general. in history, for examply, you have macrohistory and microhistory.
    – Unrelated
    Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 21:11
  • 1
    @JohnLawler I'd vote for that answer. Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 2:14
  • an admirable question! i wish there were words for that.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 4:03

3 Answers 3


Easily the best question ever posted on the site, and I adore your conception and description of prose as zoomed-in and zoomed-out, close-up v. wide shots. I and I'm sure all writers constantly think about this fundamental tension - should I write most fundamental tension - in writing, and you're very insightful to concretize it - and it's amazing there's no specific word for this.

Just a thought on your question c

c) The dichotomy of the two?

Regarding writing that is highly aware of and uses well the dichotomy between the two, I would use the word from painting


(Go see some Caravaggio {perhaps a better phrase there is go get kicked in the face by the Caravaggio horse} if not fully gut-familiar with this.)

Of course, you can use chiaroscuro to talk about or emphasize the dichotomy between any two "values", it's the word you use when you want to describe that an artist recognises and clarifies two extremes of some quality (of course, in painting, "lighting".)

I suggest that chiaroscuro works very well when describing prose with, well, a chiaroscuro of close-upness .. perhaps the phrase "a chiaroscuro of scale" almost captures what you mean. If there was a SWR "X" for what you're saying, "X chiaroscuro" works well.


So many good words! a) Pedantic, florid. b) Prosaic, straightforward, hemingwayesque... etc.

Anyways, since you're uninterested in all that, you might be looking for purple prose and beige prose. They specifically describe prose that is too blahblahblah and too blah, respectively.


The close voice and distant voice terminology comes somewhere near to what you are describing. People talk about close first person narrative, when the words are apparently written from inside the character's head, whereas the distant voice would be words spoken by an imaginary narrator who may know things individual characters do not.

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