On the topic of third person narrators

#1
Seeing as we are all amateurs here, a few blunders here and there concerning a text's structure is acceptable - however, when the rules of narration are ignored by so many authors, many fledgling writers might believe it's tolerable to break the rules themselves!

Rant start!


Let's begin with my favorite type of narrator - the third person narrator.

A third person narrator is NOT a character. A third person narrator is NOT the author. A third person narrator is NOT a person at all!

Now, if the third person narrator is not...a being, then what is it?

A third person observer, in the traditional meaning, is a combination of senses - it has no thought, no opinion, no NOTHING! Its only purpose is to relay the events unfolding in the story's universe to the reader. It can read minds, read lips, see and accurately describe a leaf blowing in the wind, hear a coin drop on a bathroom floor halfway across the galaxy  - but what does it do with all this information?

What does it think of all this?

...

ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING!

I keep seeing, time and time again, third person narrators who make metaphors, crack jokes, express their disapproval, etc...

NO NO NO!

Here's a typical example of the reincarnation fictions on this website:

Quote: Carnation-chan looked up at her stubby fingers.

"Goddamit, I've been reincarnated as a human again," she groaned, "a human infant too...damned gods won't let me take over a body..."

Of course Carnation-chan was mad, after all, nobody would want to be stuck as a baby.


NO NO NO NO NO! Who is this person telling us that being reincarnated as a baby is bad? Why does he/she have this opinion? What if I, as a reader, think that being reincarnated as a baby, especially a human baby, is a good thing? Why does the book tell me it's bad?

See, the use of a third person narrator implies absolutes - it is the book itself. Its words are truth, unless it chooses to hide them. A third person narrator can conceal, but never lie.

Quote:The girl was very pretty. Like a black jewel in a desert of grey


The above is poorly written, but I assure you I've seen worse. And often. What does this third person know about pretty? What is pretty? What if the reader doesn't think she's pretty? Tell me what she looks like, and I'll decide on my own if she's pretty or not. And what if I don't think she looks like a jewel? What would YOU know anyways, mister third person narrator? I don't know who you are, what you're thinking or what you've experienced. Don't tell me what to think, just show me, and I shall conclude what I will on my own.

Show, do not tell.

By giving your third person narrator an opinion, you are forcing additional absolutes onto your reader. Am I to believe that every single person in the story's universe is adamantly against being reincarnated as a baby? Who are you to tell me what I should think. "Of course"? Was I supposed to instinctively know that being a baby is bad? And who the hell are you, to force an opinion on me?

An opinion automatically implies that the speaker is a character or a person that has a past, experience, and thoughts on which to base that opinion - however, characters and people are not perfect. Their view of the world is subjective. When an apparently omniscient god-like figure, such as the third person narrator, starts giving out subjective statements, the story loses credibility.

If, as an author, you want to express your own opinion, do it through your characters, not your narrator.

Obviously, rules are made to be broken. Opinions can definitely be inserted in a third person narrator - but it has to be executed properly. With tact.

Adverbs are a good example of adding opinion to your story without impeding on the reader's experience.

Quote:The blacksmith stubbornly hammered away at the ingot, slowly shaping it into the blade of a dagger. His muscles, glistening with sweat, bulged as he lifted the hammer high above his head and brought it back down upon the molten metal.


Does the third person narrator actually know what stubborn hammering looks like? Of course not. Does the reader know? Probably. Does it impede upon the reader's image of the story? Not at all. That being said, adverbs disturb the flow of your text if used too frequently, and should be avoided whenever possible.

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Now, for the first person narrator

Ultimately, since the first person narrator is YOUR character, you're allowed infinite freedom! Hell, you can even make typos throughout the whole story (though I wouldn't suggest it). Why? Because your character is imperfect. He is telling the reader his thoughts and observations. Maybe he really believes that word is written that way. Maybe he's retarded. Maybe he's dyslexic.

Quote:I'm watching Mary by my window. Mary is a girl I like. She's walking down the street right now. She sure looks pretty in her frilly dress... My birdy itches sometimes when I see her. Its weird. Daddy said not too worry though, so I'm not worried.


Is the above well written? Maybe not. Is it well and deeply thought out? Not at all. Does it accurately reflect my character's thoughts and feelings? Hell yeah, and that's what's important in a first person narrator. Opinions can be voiced however you want them to be - or rather, however your character makes of them.

However, when writing in the first person, it is important to remember who your character is. He is not an idle observer, content to simply relay information. No, he is an integral part of your story - he has feelings, emotions. Maybe he voices his thoughts in a particular fashion. Maybe during intense combat sequences, he is intense and focused, yet during his normal day to day life, he can only think about boobs.

Another thing to think about is the consistence of your character. A character does not change his/her attitude without something happening. It doesn't have to be big, but there has to be something. This is important to remember, especially when we consider that we are amateur writers, and our writing style changes over time. Even if your style changes, your character must not.

As a first person narrator, you have the freedom to make metaphors and comparisons. I believe this is one of the most important benefits of first person narration. It really adds another dimension to your writing.

Quote:It was, I thought idly, the most polite punch I'd ever seen. It was the careful blow of a skilled carpenter pounding a nail: hard enough to drive it home, yet not so hard as to bruise the wood around it.


Quote:I could not indulge in some their casual funtime hankypanky - not when a more serious prospect was peeking from around the corner


A first person narrator can project an image, can offer an alternate explanation, can humor the reader - something a third person narrator cannot do.

*  *  *  *  *


/rant_end


TL;DR - use your fucking narrators properly.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#3
The trouble with first person, however, is that it can also feel very limiting at times. You can't write anything that the character doesn't know about or notice. This makes foreshadowing extremely difficult if your character is supposed to be smart. Let's say they mention that there's someone they don't know hiding in the shadows beside a building. Later they act surprised when they find out that person was following them!? [Bullshit detected]

You could try doing a PoV shift to another character. But they're nearly impossible to do without it being awkward. Even if you think you pulled it off, you end up with questions like this. Why does this other character have almost the exact same thought pattern and vocabulary as the MC? Two completely different people shouldn't think exactly the same way. When you do a PoV shift, then you also have to do a complete mindset shift as well. Even going so far as to either limit your vocabulary or pick up a thesaurus and use big words every chance you get. Too awkward and difficult to be worth attempting, in my opinion.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#4
I disagree with the adverbs; they should be, almost all the time, avoided.

You can use stronger words to describe "stubbornly."

Quote:
He persisted on hammering the ingot, forcing it into the shape in his mind. After countless and numerous strikes at the hot ingot, it started to take the form of a dagger.


Adverbs should only be used when there's nothing else that can be done like using (I can't think of one at the moment).

Why? Because most of the time, adverbs summarize. Summarized descriptions tend to read not as well as full descriptions of the action.

So with that said, use adverbs sparingly.

***


Quote:The girl was very pretty. Like a black jewel in a desert of grey


This can be solved by saying "he/she thought" because it redirects the opinion that was supposed to be the narrator's to a character.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#6
Hahaha, in my fiction Fantasia, the 3rd person narrator is definitely a character. She doesn't refer to herself in 1st person, though.

5/5/2015 11:05:06 PMValthan Wrote: [ -> ]The trouble with first person, however, is that it can also feel very limiting at times. You can't write anything that the character doesn't know about or notice. This makes foreshadowing extremely difficult if your character is supposed to be smart. Let's say they mention that there's someone they don't know hiding in the shadows beside a building. Later they act surprised when they find out that person was following them!? [Bullshit detected]

You could try doing a PoV shift to another character. But they're nearly impossible to do without it being awkward. Even if you think you pulled it off, you end up with questions like this. Why does this other character have almost the exact same thought pattern and vocabulary as the MC? Two completely different people shouldn't think exactly the same way. When you do a PoV shift, then you also have to do a complete mindset shift as well. Even going so far as to either limit your vocabulary or pick up a thesaurus and use big words every chance you get. Too awkward and difficult to be worth attempting, in my opinion.


Switching between 1st person PoVs can be awkward, but as long as one does carefully change the writing to reflect different beliefs, thought patterns, and vocabulary, I wouldn't say that it's impossible or nearly impossible. For example, one character may like to swear while another doesn't, one character may be obsessed with one particular topic/person so that their thoughts constantly circle back to it, one character may have long, winding thoughts that are shown by long winding sentences while another uses words as concisely as possible, one character may be really sarcastic and cynical in their interpretation of the world... The list goes on and on. If you're planning on doing multiple 1st person PoVs, it's a good idea to decide this early, and purposely make the narration styles of each character rather distinctive.

Another thing that you can do is write in 1st person for most of the story, and if you need to switch PoVs to another character to illuminate something else happening in the story, use 3rd person for everyone who's not the MC.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#7
When a narrator categorizes something as "not the best" or" not the worst", is this an unforgivable breach of narrator etiquette?
Perhaps its acceptable if the author would rather just spit out some information that isn't really that important. It's how I feel but I'm no expert.
It's also not something that would be repeated in every paragraph or whatever.

Also, would a limited 3rd person narrator have extra leeway with the aforementioned buffoonery in your topic.
Terry Pratchett loved this kind of stuff. Though I suppose there is always exceptions, as is every book he wrote.

Example, -What he didn't like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.-

The narrator jokes, and has opinions. The author used a limited third person perspective.
Of course, just pick up any Terry Pratchett book and find examples of this abundant throughout the book.


How would a narrator know what slowly is? I could go on for a while with this but my point is, no matter how you show something. There is going to be something you have to tell. Sometimes, "pretty" might let you to something more important. And finally...
The third person narrator in the Discworld books, has a distinct personality. (My opinion) It may as well be someone telling a story!

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#8
5/21/2015 4:05:31 AMCaine Wrote: [ -> ]When a narrator categorizes  something as "not the best" or" not the worst", is this an unforgivable breach of narrator etiquette?
Perhaps its acceptable if the author would rather just spit out some information that isn't really that important.  It's how I feel but I'm no expert.
It's also not something that would be repeated in every paragraph or whatever.

Also, would a limited 3rd person narrator have extra leeway with the aforementioned  buffoonery in your topic.
Terry Pratchett loved this kind of stuff.  Though I suppose there is always exceptions, as is every book he wrote.

Example, -What he didn't like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.-

The narrator jokes, and has opinions.  The author used a limited third person perspective.
Of course, just pick up any Terry Pratchett book and find examples of this abundant throughout the book.


How would a narrator know what slowly is? I could go on for a while with this but my point is, no matter how you show something. There is going to be something you have to tell. Sometimes, "pretty" might let you to something more important. And finally...
The third person narrator in the Discworld books, has a distinct personality. (My opinion) It may as well be someone telling a story!


Really, other than basic spelling (and even this can be ignored when writing dialogue or the characters' own writing), writing conventions were made to be broken. You can do pretty much anything, as long as it's on purpose. If you want to give your narrator a personality and voice its opinions, you can, but be aware of the humorous, almost parody-like effect, as well as the fact that it makes the story more "meta", which can pull the reader out of the "immersed in the story" feeling.

Terry Pratchett's narrator is definitely special, though in the quote you selected, I would argue that the opinions expressed are those of the character "he" rather than the narrator's. It is possible in limited 3rd person narration to express the thoughts and feelings of the character while still writing in 3rd person.

The level of "sentience" you want to give your narrator can vary a lot. As a rule, the more you stick to describing exactly what happens, like the swings and strikes in a combat scene, the more vivid and intense the reader experience. When you step back with more interpretation of events, you create a more intellectual and nuanced feeling. Selecting the right style for what you're trying to write is just another skill an author needs to master.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#10
1/2/2016 10:25:53 PMmaracas Wrote: [ -> ]can i change from 1st person narrator to 3rd person narrator in a chapter? if possible can you show me an example?. if not what about between chapters? (chapter 1 3rd person chapter 2 1st person)


The simple answer, yes, you can change between first and third narration (but I personally don't recommend it). Often what I've seen work is an MC's POV written in first person and everyone else (the primary characters' POV's) written in third.

Having multiple first person narrators CAN also work, but in my opinion, it's like having two completely different writing styles because you have to make your reader believe you switched heads (everyone thinks differently, your characters should too). In other words, it's incredibly difficult to pull off.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#11
1/2/2016 10:25:53 PMmaracas Wrote: [ -> ]can i change from 1st person narrator to 3rd person narrator in a chapter? if possible can you show me an example?. if not what about between chapters? (chapter 1 3rd person chapter 2 1st person)



No, you can't change between 1st and 3rd in the same chapter, but you can in different chapters, so one chapter can be the hero's pov in 1st, and the next can be in the villains' in 3rd. This method is used by a number of thriller writers who want to show you what the bad guys are doing but obviously the hero doesn't know so it can't be in his POV.


Switching between 1st and 3rd in the same chapter just looks ridiculous and makes no sense.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#12
Hello there guys! I'm a new member of RRL and new aspiring author.

I'm greener than green here, and after reading this guide, I ended up more confused than actually was before, for a moment there I felt that it made sense and that I understood what was explained, yet now after going through my first chapter for my fiction (editing and trying to stablish a standar style present or past, not mixing them as its happening here and there now.), I'm feeling somewhat lost on how to do it.

I'm going to use a live example

Code:
“Hey Brorr, mornin’ to you old man,” says Gatriel with a strong tone calling over to Brorr, the boss of this pier in the south-east of the continent.


Im using 3rd person narration style, and only on "thoughts" my characters, use first person dialog/text, now, if I'm supposed to "show, not tell", wouldnt writing [with a strong tone] be considered telling? or it works because I'm using it to support a description after a dialog?.

That kind of descriptions on my text happens absurdly often (please keep in mind that im editing on my google docs file, once its done (and when its done) will be when I replace the current version.

Sorry for the question, and thanks in advance for the guidance.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#13
Is this question even related to the third person narrator?
1/8/2016 9:47:32 AMAerethorn Wrote: [ -> ]
now, if I'm supposed to "show, not tell", wouldnt writing [with a strong tone] be considered telling? or it works because I'm using it to support a description after a dialog?.



"with a strong tone" is actually pretty vague on it's own. I could ask: what kind of strong tone? (but the words said is a pretty good indication it's in a friendly manner.)
So I'm going to simply ask you something different:
Does Gatriel make any sort of movement? Calling someone over usually entails a hand gesture.
(((Knowing this guy was the boss... is that information so important you had to tell us outright? Couldn't you just hint at that?)))

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#14
1/8/2016 11:27:05 AMChiisutofupuru Wrote: [ -> ]Is this question even related to the third person narrator?
1/8/2016 9:47:32 AMAerethorn Wrote: [ -> ]
now, if I'm supposed to "show, not tell", wouldnt writing [with a strong tone] be considered telling? or it works because I'm using it to support a description after a dialog?.



"with a strong tone" is actually pretty vague on it's own. I could ask: what kind of strong tone? (but the words said is a pretty good indication it's in a friendly manner.)
So I'm going to simply ask you something different:
Does Gatriel make any sort of movement? Calling someone over usually entails a hand gesture.
(((Knowing this guy was the boss... is that information so important you had to tell us outright? Couldn't you just hint at that?)))


It has context, as later on, he orders other guys to get something done for my MC (Gatriel), 

anyway, im sorting it out, 3rd person narration after some investigation and help from @Chiisutofupuru I realized thats not as absolute as put here! there are many 3rd person narration, and as long as I dont go through the Objective Omniscient one, I have more freedom to interfere and see thoughts of my actors, I'll give a try to 3rd person multiple POV narration, allows me limited access to the resources the 3rd person objective omniscient wont ever give me.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#15
5/5/2015 11:05:06 PMValthan Wrote: [ -> ]The trouble with first person, however, is that it can also feel very limiting at times. You can't write anything that the character doesn't know about or notice. This makes foreshadowing extremely difficult if your character is supposed to be smart. Let's say they mention that there's someone they don't know hiding in the shadows beside a building. Later they act surprised when they find out that person was following them!? [Bullshit detected]

You can make something...
At the time, I didn't know someone was hiding in the shadow beside the building.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#16
This is a good post, and I agree with most everything said here, but I would argue that it is very possible for the 3rd person narrator to inject its own voice into a story. For one, a third person narrator is simply that: The third person. An observer who isn't part of the story, yes, but they aren't always just a  nonexistent voice telling you a tale. This type of narration stems from the days of old, before even books, when stories were told by word of mouth. Those narrators told stories they had heard but not experienced, thus becoming the "3rd person." Therefore, it is very possible for the third person to have a basis with which to express personal opinion. It is a bias that affects the story, but it isn't a fopaw necessarily on the writer's part. 

Hell, you could even look at the 3rd person perspective as the author telling you the story. I can say "The girl was very pretty." I have my own memories and ideologies that give me a perspective to base this off of. I do know what pretty is, to me anyways. This basis can change from person to person, which is why fan art of books without any previously drawn characters can garner such a broad range of designs per character.

But like I said, this is a good post. You sir, have earned my respect.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#17
1/11/2016 10:25:16 PMScorchedEarth22 Wrote: [ -> ]This is a good post, and I agree with most everything said here, but I would argue that it is very possible for the 3rd person narrator to inject its own voice into a story. For one, a third person narrator is simply that: The third person. An observer who isn't part of the story, yes, but they aren't always just a  nonexistent voice telling you a tale. This type of narration stems from the days of old, before even books, when stories were told by word of mouth. Those narrators told stories they had heard but not experienced, thus becoming the "3rd person." Therefore, it is very possible for the third person to have a basis with which to express personal opinion. It is a bias that affects the story, but it isn't a fopaw necessarily on the writer's part. 

Hell, you could even look at the 3rd person perspective as the author telling you the story. I can say "The girl was very pretty." I have my own memories and ideologies that give me a perspective to base this off of. I do know what pretty is, to me anyways. This basis can change from person to person, which is why fan art of books without any previously drawn characters can garner such a broad range of designs per character.

But like I said, this is a good post. You sir, have earned my respect.


That is what I would call storytelling. (Often the style used for children's  fairy-tale books.) Not exactly the same as a third person perspective on things.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#18
An informative post, but I have to disagree. Ever read 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'? Lemony Snicket breaks quite a few of your rules and is a very entertaining narrator.

Narratology is an entire field of study. I took a class in it in exclusivly that in college.

I believe what you are describing are differences in focalization, zero, internal, and external. To me, it seems that your primary complaints stem from unexpected changes between focalization, rather then narration conventions.

I.e. if you have a narrator that is commenting on the story a lot (see TV tropes Unreliable Narrator for examples) then they should be commenting a lot. We shouldn't forget they exist and the entire story should be told in that manner. On the otherhand if the narrator is omnicient and directs the story from the background, giving uninfluenced or personalized narration then it should stay that way.

RE: On the topic of third person narrators

#20
Third person narrator is a bit more complex than you made it seem in the guide. Look up free indirect speech, if you don't already know of it. I believe it's a worthwhile addition to the guide. It's fairly common fare by now to have opinions represented as implied thoughts, the important distinction here being that those opinions must belong to a character and not to the narrator. I'm not arguing in favor of the input of an omniscient narrator opinion though.

Still, I'd like to tweak your example a bit.

Quote:Carnation-chan looked up at her stubby fingers.

"Goddamit, I've been reincarnated as a human again," she groaned, "a human infant too...damned gods won't let me take over a body..."

Shit, being an infant really sucked.


Done like this, the opinion obviously belongs to the character and is certainly within the boundaries of a third person narrator.

I think it's important to make it clear that free indirect speech is acceptable, maybe even encouraged. It blurs the line between omniscient and limited narrator and helps define characters. Of course, there is a right way and a wrong way to use and abuse it, but it is important enough to deserve a mention. It's one of the reasons why the third person is so popular nowadays.

Still, I like your guide, it's well written and well thought out. Definitely worth the read.
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