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  1. JSLCampbell
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    JSLCampbell Member

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    Narration - Through the character and through an independent observer

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JSLCampbell, Aug 19, 2011.

    While I think I have a pretty good understanding of oh Dialogue, I've realized that I'm a little hazy on everything that takes place outside of the speech marks. Just fyi, the novel I'm working on at the moment is in third person and my main character is going to be the only real POV character who's thoughts and emotions the reader will be aware of. There will almost definitely be short scenes throughout the book in which the protagonist isn't present, but the story won't take the POV of any characters involved in these scenes.

    The main thing that I don't think I understand properly at the moment is narration that actually takes place through a character (in this case, only the main character) and is potentially therefore subject to the character's thoughts, emotions, knowledge etc., and narration that is actually independent of any character's interpretations of a situation and just tells it as it is, or at least, how the reader would/should see the situation is they were dropped into the story. I don't know if these are called different types of narration or are distinct somehow. I think one of the things that confuses me a little bit too is how closely used these are in a lot of writing passages. In the same paragraph a script of narration seems like it can go through a character and go through an independent observer. Here's an example from The Shining, in which Danny is the POV character for the chapter which this extract is from;

    Only the wind spoke back, gusting more strongly this time, scattering leaves across the sloping roof below his window. Some of them slipped into the raingutter and came to rest there like tired dancers.

    Is this supposed to be taken as a truthful picture of the scene given by a narrator who's observing and retelling, or Danny's interpretation of the scene, perhaps skewed by his emotions or whatever at the time? It becomes more confusing still when senses are added -

    The sparkling water breaking gently on the beach felt warm and inviting, despite the jellyfish warning.

    even though there's a feeling in the passage, it could still be some all-understanding observing narrator independent from the story relaying the scene to the reader as it's suppose to be (as the author designed it). Or, it could be the impression of the POV character and therefore subjective, because somebody who dislikes swimming in the ocean might see/feel it as uninviting.

    So, how do I when reading decide whether the passage is from an independent observing narrator and therefore should be taken at face value, or when I should consider that the scene is the POV char's interpretation. And, more importantly, how would a reader take it? As I said, sometimes it can change quickly, so I'm not certain if looking for "Danny thought" at the start of a paragraph would help;

    He started at the sound of that familiar voice and craned out the window, his small hands on the sill. With the sound of Tony's voice the whole night seemed to have come silently and secretly alive, whispering even when the wind quieted again and the leaves were still and the shadows had stopped moving. He thought he saw a darker shadow standing by the bus stop a block down, but it was hard to tell if it was a real thing or an eyetrick.

    Is that middle sentence Danny's perception of the scene (that somebody else could possibly consider differently)? Or is it to be taken at face value, from a narrator who's just stating what's happening and doesn't give bias or offer a skewed perspective?

    Now, the narration that goes through a character's thoughts and perceptions seemed more personalised than using an independent narrator to present things to the reader. Is it a better route therefore to cut all independent narration when the POV character is present in a scene, not including descriptions of character actions? (obviously though there has to be independent narration in scenes where the POV character isn't present). Is it even possible? Or is it important for the reader to have that unbiased/uninterpreted view of an independent narrator so scenes can be set properly? Because the POV character might be in a mood that completely contrasts the mood of his surroundings, and if the reader is only given details of the surroundings through the POV character's thoughts and senses, the scene might not make sense.




    Can you see what I'm getting at? This has been quite a tricky line of thought for me and it's been difficult to write about. But it has implications for the prose; I might need to pay more attention to how the narration may be skewed by the character it's going through.

    -----------------------------------

    Is this not making any sense at all? Because it's something that's still bothering me. I looked this up a little bit, and I think my problem is distinguishing the difference between third person limited and third person omniscient narrative. The two wiki pages classifies certain books as being one of these, but when I read it seems like it changes on a sentence by sentence basis. For example, Harry Potter is listed as being Third Person Limited, but there are still plenty of passages in the book that seem to give a god-like description of the scene without any thoughts or senses. Whether these passages are to be taken as Harry telling the story, or an independent god-like observer telling the story, is what's confusing me.

    "Life at The Burrow was as different as possible from life in Privet Drive. The Dursleys liked everything neat and ordered; The Weasleys' house burst with the strange and unexpected."

    ^ There's no senses or thoughts in this sentence. It just seems like a god-like description of the current events, even though the Harry Potter books are apparently third-person limited. But it could still be treated as if Harry is the one describing the events in this sentence, and if that's the case, here's where it has implications for my own writing. If I wrote a passage like this in my novels, and the passage is going to be treated as if my main character is the one describing the events, then surely the description could be skewed, and potentially open to the character's bias, perception, etc.

    So, I guess to put it into questions;

    - Is Harry narrating the events in this sentence by simply telling them? Or does it come from a god-like narrator telling us?

    - If it is Harry, how do you know? What about the sentence makes us assume Harry is narrating?

    - And if it is Harry, can we assume that the information might be skewed by his perception?

    - If this isn't Harry narrating, and instead a god-like narrator giving the details, wouldn't it be possible/better to remove this information and blend it into Harry's thoughts/senses, to make seem more personalized?

    My trail of thought with this is that if it's a god-like narrator, the information is accurate and unbiased, but consequently perhaps a little detached and unrealistic. If it's Harry narrating, then the details of the narration are open to his interpretation and perception (Privet Drive might not actually be neat and ordered according to the Author, it might just be Harry's view of the place), but the text will feel more personalized and closer to the main character.
     
  2. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't give a good answer because I'm not an expert of point of views/narration either, but probably someone will explain it to you soon... In my writing I only deal with one kind of pov, because to me that is the simplest, since I don't know the rules and do's and don'ts. In my case it's third person limited and I never write scenes without any of my viewpoint characters present. I stick to what they know and see.
     
  3. JSLCampbell
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    JSLCampbell Member

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    Mmm, I can relate to that. Previously I've written fairly intuitively in regards to narration, but trying to think more deeply about the effects it can have on the script and reader, I ran into the aforementioned confusion.

    I think basically I want to write in a kind of "first-person limited" style with the main POV character narrating, except referring to himself in the third person, but if these god-like descriptive passages that don't include thought or sense aren't going to be taken as the POV character narrating them, then I'd want to try and keep them out of the text ;)
     
  4. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would like to know too if/how one can mix/alternate different pov/narration techniques...
     
  5. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    I think what you're seeing in the King example is manipulation of narrative distance. Think of a camera lens, able to take wide establishing shots and close-ups and everything in between. Using an omniscient narrator, as I think King does here, he is free to zoom in and out whenever he pleases, even getting so close to the character that his thoughts are heard. The key to doing this successfully is transition.

    Omniscience doesn't have to be a "just the facts, ma'am," kind of viewpoint, at least in my understanding. The writer is free to give it its own tone and voice, which is why it may seem difficult, sometimes, to differentiate it from a Limited point of view.
     
  6. Phoenix001
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    Phoenix001 New Member

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    I think I get what you're getting at.

    In your Harry Potter example, I think J.K. was trying to characterize the Burrow through a third person narrator. In your examples, it's probably a good idea to distinguish when you leave the character's POV. But don't be afraid to leave your character, I really enjoy a narration that isn't nailed down to a certain person.

    Read 'The Book Thief' for some other help on this.

    It's literally narrated by death. Great story.
     

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