1. sean robins

    sean robins Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2018
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    30

    Narrator Intrusion in Limited Third-Person POV

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by sean robins, Nov 3, 2018.

    Hello everyone,

    Can you please tell me if something is wrong with the following:

    In this scene, Elizabeth, waiting for imminent execution, meets her priest. Everything is from her POV. We see her talk to and pray with the priest, and when the guards come to take her, this happens:


    “Please don’t forget about my charity and my plant,” Elizabeth told him.

    Using her celebrity status, Elizabeth had founded a charity organization, collecting donations for New York’s orphanages. Also, she had a Chinese evergreen in her cell. The chaplain had promised to continue her work with the charity and to take the plant to his own office.

    This was the last time I prayed in my life, thought Elizabeth after the priest left. The thought made her feel dizzy. Her vision blurred, and her knees went weak..


    The reason I am asking is a lot of people have commented that paragraph in the middle (Using her celebrity...) is a "narrator intrusion" in third person limited POV, and it must be removed, or shown in a scene. This is just one example. I have a few of these in my novel:(

    IMHO, I think the narrator is allowed to slip in pieces of information like this when the plot demands, maybe once or twice in each scene.

    Thank you all in advanceJ
     
    Oscar Leigh likes this.
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,827
    Likes Received:
    20,808
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    It's not committing the sin of information that Elizabeth wouldn't or shouldn't have, but it certainly doesn't feel very in the moment. Not the way it's written. I do feel the thing your readers are commenting about. Like the narrator suddenly turns towards me, pulling my attention away from the character, and speaks directly to me, dropping a bit of explanation on me to help things make sense.

    There are two things making this happen:

    1) The way that aside is pinned between a line of dialogue prior and some internal dialogue afterward. The focus is tight on the character, zooms out to the narrator, and then tightly back to the character in quick succession.

    2) The way the information is worded as general data. It doesn't feel like a thought process the character is having. It does feel rather much like narrative intrusion.

    Whether or not you want to alter this is clearly your choice, but I think it could easily be reworded to tie more closely to how and or why the character is thinking about things. Right now, it's a little mico-info-dump that feels like a notable swerve out of the story's POV.
     
  3. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    2,488
    Likes Received:
    4,016
    I can't agree with @Wreybies more, if for no other reason than I tend to do this myself a lot in first drafts! When I've left them in inadvertently, my betas/editors almost always recommend getting rid of them.

    If you're getting this feedback from multiple people I'd listen to it, personally. A reader can vividly feel when they're being jerked out of the story, and it's not a pleasant experience. Too many of these can have me putting a book in the DNF (Did Not Finish) pile.
     
    Shenanigator and Stormburn like this.
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,254
    Likes Received:
    13,075
    I agree that this is an issue—not the information, but the voice it’s presented in, the “closer” moments that it’s sandwiched between, and also the plot moment that it’s presented. If the charity and plant are so important that the character thinks of them in the moments before her death, we probably should have heard about them earlier.
     
  5. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2018
    Messages:
    1,407
    Likes Received:
    2,523
    Location:
    Texas
    I would say it depends on how often you're doing this. If you're asking, I have to guess it's not your established style of narration. Either way, I think these folks are right about it's jarring placement. More importantly, if it bugs you, rework it. I assumed half of that exposition from her statement anyway, but if you really need to mention the charity and plant by name, just put it in the priest's reply, something to the effect of, "Orphans, Chinese evergreen, check." But worded as he would say it, maybe something more solemn. We confirm checklists like that for each other all the time. It wouldn't have to feel like bad exposition even if he elaborated. "Not to worry. Mrs. Soandso is taking over your responsibilities at the Something Foundation, and I'll be taking personal care of your Chinese Evergreen. I have something of a green thumb myself." or whatever's actually going to happen. If she already knows these things, then the checklist is probably better. If the reader already knows these things, you can skip it altogether if you want.
     
  6. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2018
    Messages:
    1,407
    Likes Received:
    2,523
    Location:
    Texas
    And you're right. A narrator should be allowed to do exactly what you're saying. Look at Stephen King. He'll split up a one minute conversation with so much exposition, it fills a chapter, but he's consistent. That's one of the reasons it works.
     
    vera-z likes this.
  7. sean robins

    sean robins Member

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2018
    Messages:
    70
    Likes Received:
    30
    Thank you:) I have always been struggling with staying in the moment:( One more question: Is this still a problem if this scene is from an omniscient POV, not limited third person?
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    15,254
    Likes Received:
    13,075
    I think that the issues that make it a bit of a jolt/interruption/speedbump would still be issues.
     
    sean robins likes this.
  9. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,827
    Likes Received:
    20,808
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    Goodness, I wouldn't change the entire structural POV of the story just to deliver these three sentences, and I agree with @ChickenFreak that given where they occur, where they're happening, it wouldn't change the bump-in-the-road nature.

    If the information is worth delivering to the reader, it's worth rewording to make it more organic to the way Elizabeth would be thinking about it at that time. I think it would be very easy. We know she's thinking about the kids and the plant. She just said so in the dialogue at the beginning. Tell us how she's thinking, not why she said those words.

    But again, it's your choice. I think understanding and working diligently to stay within the constraints of 3rd person limited is a difficult, but worthwhile venture. As @Laurin Kelly mentioned up-thread, it's not easy for any of us. We all make these kinds of less-than-perfect passages. I've got a whole chapter - A WHOLE CHAPTER - that's a POV tug-of-war mess between the two characters in the scene. It's going to need a lot of reworking to be passable, but just saying "I think I should be allowed to do this every once in a while" is not the answer. That's just giving up.

    And the fact that narrative intrusion sometimes makes it all the way to publication shouldn't serve as an excuse either. In GRRM's Game of Throne books - all written in rotating 3rd person limited - at least once every chapter someone's garb is described in such detail that you could make a McCall Pattern out of just the description. That's 100% narrative intrusion because these descriptions are coming in every chapter and each chapter has a different focus character for the POV, which means that everyone alive in Westeros is a hardcore fashionista, and that makes zero sense.

    Could you imagine The Hound being like, "Cersie, gurl, that top is so fetch!"

    [​IMG]

    In GRRM's defense, I think it's clear that he's making a conscious choice. Readers of High Fantasy demand details, details, details. They're there for the worldbuilding as much as the intrigue that takes place in that world. So, given the choice between the constraints of the POV (to which he otherwise sticks very well, with a clearly practiced hand), and satisfying the demands of the readers, he gives the readers what they want at the expense of a little narrative intrusion.

    I stress, though, that it's clearly a choice. I am not the target audience for those kinds of books. I don't usually read High Fantasy. To me, the narrative intrusion in the form of these clothing descriptions sticks out like a sore thumb.

    One last note: If this thread keeps going, eventually someone's going to come along and mention a very different kind of narrative intrusion, and on the off chance that you're just getting a handle on these things, I don't want you to be confused. So far, we've been talking about narrative intrusion that's unintentional, or in the case of GRRM, a calculated choice, but still technically a fault. There is also narrative intrusion as a purposeful device, employed with intent, and manipulated to serve a purpose. That is a completely different creature. Unfortunately, the purposeful kind and the unintentional kind tend to get confused and conflated in discussions like these.
     
  10. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    21,353
    Likes Received:
    24,610
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    tbh my issue with this is not the intrusion but the unnecessary information, just omit those lines entirely, or take care of them in speech

    "Please don't forget my charity, or my plant" Elizabeth begged

    "Don't worry my child" said the chaplain "i'll see that they are taken care of"

    If the plot demands that the reader know more about the charity and the plant you can pick up the information later
     
    Iain Aschendale and sean robins like this.
  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    21,353
    Likes Received:
    24,610
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    Or if you have to include it in the scene give it a reason to be there

    "Don't forget my charity" Elizabeth begged the chaplain "or my plant"
    "I won't, my child"
    "I know its silly to be thinking of them now, I just...need to know ... that something I've done will go on"
    "The chaplain nodded "The work for the orphans will continue. Now pray with me"
     
    Shenanigator and sean robins like this.
  12. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,827
    Likes Received:
    20,808
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    The question of whether or not these lines are actually needed is defo on the table. Like explaining a joke. If you have to explain it, you didn't tell it correctly, and a badly told joke is nearly always about a poor setup, and in the case of this snippet of story in the OP, this draws our attention away from the central paragraph and onto the initial line of dialogue where the charity and the plant are made mention.

    Has that line of dialogue been set up correctly prior to this snippet?

    Do we know about these things already?

    If the answer is yes, then resist the urge to hand-hold the reader and just drop that problematic paragraph completely.

    If the answer is no, then resist the urge to draw the reader's attention to the narrator, and instead let Elizabeth tell us in one way or another. She's the focus. Be it through dialogue or thoughts, it needs to belong to her. In 3rd person limited the narrator is just a stagehand and should not be a "seen person".
     
  13. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    2,488
    Likes Received:
    4,016
    My insecurities as a writer are 100% at the root of this for me. I'm usually pretty good at setting up motivation and backstory organically, but then when my hands are flying I'll insert all kinds of things like "because of his difficult childhood" or "he feared loss ever since everyone he loved had been murdered", and it's only when I go back I catch them. Usually I'll facepalm and say "Well, duh Laurin! I think your readers are probably smart enough to know that having your whole family slaughtered by a hit man as a teenager might result in fear of loss as an adult JEEZE CAPTAIN OBVIOUS"

    Trusting yourself and trusting your readers is a work in progress, and neither me nor anyone else is going to get there overnight. Write away, and then once you're turning your first draft into a second draft, then listen to both your betas and yourself when they indicate that your readers probably already understand this obvious thing you're pointing out.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    21,353
    Likes Received:
    24,610
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    I found one the other day on a re edit (reffering to some grenades that dusty and his merry men are using) "we'd taken them from some insurgents that didn't needs them anymore, on account of being dead after we killed them" Dear god don't carry on writing at 1am .... post edit "which we'd taken from some insurgents that didn't need them any more"
     
  15. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,675
    Likes Received:
    19,878
    Location:
    Scotland
    ...erm ..."which we'd taken from some insurgents WHO didn't need them any more" :)
     
    Shenanigator and xanadu like this.
  16. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    23,827
    Likes Received:
    20,808
    Location:
    El Tembloroso Caribe
    I think the above sentiment cannot be overstressed.

    If any of us sound confident and assured in the advice we give, it's because we're each staring at our own respective WIP's, scratching our heads, looking at the exact same problems. :bigoops::whistle::-D

    That chapter I mentioned earlier, the tug-of-war?

    I've either:

    a) Failed to really choose who that chapter belongs to, Tevin or Brenn, or
    b) I did choose (Tevin...maybe?) and all this stuff that belongs to Brenn is me doing the very same thing, hand-holding, or
    c) Not letting the information come organically from Tevin, or
    d) The most likely scenario: ALL OF THE ABOVE! :-D

    That's a true story. No lie. :bigwink:
     
    John Calligan and Laurin Kelly like this.
  17. CerebralEcstasy

    CerebralEcstasy Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2017
    Messages:
    223
    Likes Received:
    462
    Location:
    Earth
    Each time I read threads like this. I realize how little I really know about writing.
     
    sean robins likes this.
  18. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    2,488
    Likes Received:
    4,016
    One of my favorite beta comments was on this line in the first draft of Gravity, when one of my MCs walks in on the other MC having sex with a woman:

    Krista was splayed out on the carpet vertically in front of Connor, her head pointing towards him. Pointing in the direction opposite him were her legs, even more alarmingly thin looking now that they were completely bare.

    Betas's comment was basically, "Legs pointing in the opposite direction of a person's head is kind of how the human body is put together. It's probably not necessary to point that out." :supergrin:
     
  19. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2016
    Messages:
    2,488
    Likes Received:
    4,016
    No one ever told me was that writing was 10% putting words down, and 90% screaming into the void while questioning every decision I make.
     
  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2016
    Messages:
    21,353
    Likes Received:
    24,610
    Location:
    East devon/somerset border
    well yes - if Dusty had been proper educated like, but he joined the marines at 16, lying about his age,- he went to the university of blowing shit up, so he thinks grammar is a nice old lady who sits by the fire with her knitting
     
  21. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    17,675
    Likes Received:
    19,878
    Location:
    Scotland
    :) In that case, I think I prefer the pre-edited version. Sounds more like somebody who went to the university of blowing shit up and thinks grammar is an old lady who sits by the fire.
    Your instinct might have been right the first time!
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
  22. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2015
    Messages:
    18,360
    Likes Received:
    34,765
    Location:
    Face down in the dirt
    Currently Reading::
    Telemachus Sneezed
    I agree with most of the upthread, but I think you've got a solution right in front of you in your own writing. "This was the last time I prayed in my life," is Elizabeth's final thought process, what if she's listing the last things to herself as she does them? I've often had dreams of being executed (TMI? Sorry), and it seems to me that that might be a plausible series of things rushing through her head:

    Something like that maybe.
     
    sean robins likes this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice