He Knows All…Maybe.

Back in Los Angeles and ready to blog!  And as long as we’re going back and revisiting my older blog posts, I thought I’d talk a little more about narration.  To start with, I’d like you meet someone.  His name is Narrator.

Narrator is a very special sort of…thing.  He can be anywhere at any time.  He can know all, or not.  He could also know all, but not tell you all.  He can deliberately lie to you.  Hell, he could be you.  He’s just that awesome.  In order to better explore some of Narrator’s powers, I’ve created a (cliche) situation.  Here it is:

Okay, there’s a situation.  We have Girl Character and Boy Character, and they are exchanging dialogue.  Now, Narrator can know all about this situation.  That would make him omniscient.  Narrator can also relate what is happening to you in the third person.  Is this starting to sound familiar?  I hope so.  Here is Third Person Omniscient:

Let’s talk about this for a moment.  In the above scenario, Narrator’s being pretty clinical in his observations.  He’s unbiased.  This makes him a reliable narrator.  Often, if you want an absolutely reliable narrator with no biases or prejudgments, Third Person Omniscient is the way to go.  Does that mean Third Person Omniscient is always going to be like that?  Nope.  There are scenarios that you can create that would call for, if you chose, a Third Person Omniscient narrator who’s a total dick.  Maybe the narrator in this scenario is dead, and he’s narrating from the beyond, and he has access to all kinds of knowledge the living aren’t privy to.  That’s not going to make him any less of a dick.  In fact, it might make him a little bit more of a dick.  He could even lie to the readers, and they wouldn’t be able to do a thing to stop it.  That’s more of an unreliable narrator.  He looks a little something like this:

Narrator can also be close to one character.  He’ll still narrate in the third person, but he’ll only have awareness of what’s going on in one character’s head.  That makes him reliable when he’s reporting the thoughts and actions of the character he’s following and unreliable with everything else.  Sure, he’ll reliably report what other people are doing, but it’ll be from the perspective of the character he’s following, and that character’s perspective won’t necessarily be the absolute Truth.  In order to demonstrate this, I drew a representation of Third Person Close for both characters.  First we have Girl Character:

Next comes Boy Character.  Note how the narration changes to suit Narrator’s new buddy.

When Narrator was hanging on to Girl Character, his tone was angry.  When he is with Boy Character, his tone changes to something more confused and defensive.  Finally, we have First Person, which I have illustrated below using Girl Character as the narrator.

So that’s narration in a nutshell.  But that still leaves us with the question of which type of narration to use.  I mean, in all this time I haven’t even mentioned tense.  All of these examples have been in the past tense, but present tense is also an option.  So which do you choose?  Well, I think it all comes down to one question: What do you want your readers to know?  If there is something really important that you need to keep secret from your readers, then having an unreliable narrator (either close third person or first person) would help with that, because the narrator could be just as unaware as the reader.  It would be harder with third person omniscient since, well…those kinds of narrators tend to know everything.  On the other hand, if it’s more important to you to have your readers be completely aware of the situation, then you can make good use of third person omniscient.

Narration is a choice.  Sometimes I make that choice without any conscious thought, and sometimes I have to experiment and work through the entire plot in my head before I can tell what would be best.  I recommend both of these things.  If you know from the very start that you want Girl Character to be your narrator, then go with it.  This is just another way your gut can point you in the right direction.  If you’re unsure, that’s fine, too.  I know it’ll come to you eventually.  And don’t be afraid to switch it up.  A lot of books have multiple narrators depending on the section or chapter.

In conclusion, I drew The Picture of Dorian Gray.  No it’s not relevant at all to what I just talked about, but I drew it, so now I have to show it to you.

No, his father was not actually killed by a mirror.  And no, the point of the book is not that he didn’t realize he was pretty.  The point is that he realized the painting would be able to remain forever young and beautiful while he would be doomed to die.  But that’s not so funny, so I took some artistic license.

That’s all for now!

Word of the Day: Omniscient (adj) – having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things


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