I've chosen to write my story in the third person due to the scope of it, but by doing so I have made it harder for the reader to feel 'close' to my characters. The narration seems to be, unintentionally, creating distance. Is there a way to solve this?
I like to use a lot of dialogue. It draws the reader in.
Joel didn't like riding the school bus. He was the last one on in the morning, and the seats were always filled. Because he wasn't one of the popular kids, no one made an effort to make room for him. Invariably, the bus driver would yell for him to sit down and the other kids would laugh. Occasionally, Megan would scoot over to make space, but Joel was usually too shy to ask.
Joel looked at the boy in the third seat and asked, "Can I sit here?"
"In your dreams, twerp." Everyone within listening distance laughed. Typical.
Two seats later, it was "Try using deodorant. Don't your parents love you?"
After a few more inquiries, the bus driver yelled, "It's like this every day, kid! Now find a seat; we're running late!"
Finally, blessedly, he reached Megan, his eyes pleading. She moved her backpack and iPad and patted the seat next to her. "It's OK, Joel. You can sit here."
I like to write in past-tense very close 3rd person. It's almost like 1st person mentally, but the action is viewed as if from a camera. There are several ways to increase closeness:
Repeatedly using them as a (or THE) POV character. Having two makes it closer than if you have 5 POV's.
Strictly limiting what is perceived to that character, and not going into omniscient style narration. No narrative info-dumps, just what they see, hear, or remember. That helps improve your writing too.
Focusing heavily on the character's thoughts. Italics is better than using 'he thought'. Make them real-time thoughts, not summaries or naming of emotions.
Including not just a lot of sensory information (which helps ground us in the scene), but perceived senses. Muscles burn, bones aching, heart pounding, eyes stinging, fear rips through him.
Shift the narrative voice when you shift POV. The narration of the scenes with my teenage gutter rat is very different from that of the elderly educator. The narration takes on the style, prejudices, and vocabulary of the thoughts of the POV character.
1) Be aware of how you refer to your main character. The names make a huge difference. Use "he" and "she" as much as possible without causing confusion because the reader can imagine themselves as that more so than a name. Titles create the most distance (Officer, Detective), last names less so, and first names are the closest you can come to "he" and "she".
2) This depends on how close your third person is. Is it third limited or third omniscient? Limited allows you to tell the story from one person's (or one person per scene) point of view. The narrator can feel like the person is actually talking to them because the entire section is told through their eyes so, by default, it includes their perceptions, which will bridge a good chunk of a gap between your characters and your reader.
In my experience, not feeling close to characters often comes from inadequately describing what characters are feeling. Don't label the emotions characters feel, rather describe what they do or physically feel that are consequence of the emotion.
Bob was frustrated.
Does not convey emotion as well as a simple
Look out though, because it's easy to get lazy and use something like sighing too much. To help, a great reference is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression by Ackerman and Puglisi. The book is organized by emotion, one per chapter. For each emotion, it lists things someone feeling that emotion might do (sigh, hold their head) and might feel (pounding in their head, difficulty swallowing). It also lists physical symptoms of particularly acute or chronic feeling of that emotion, and which emotions an emotion might escalate into.