Monday, 11 April 2011

Tips for aspiring writers – part 3

Amanda Sington-Williams on: Third person narrators.

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There are three main types of third person narrator. Within each , however, there are many variants, some of which I’ll talk about in other writing tip instalments.


An omniscient narrator is ‘god-like’ and has knowledge of all the characters and events. An omniscient narrator often has opinions about characters. The reader is often given information about the weather, location, or characters’ moods in a way which could appear as subjective. This is the narrators’ view of the world. In addition, the omniscient narrator is able to see inside the characters’ minds, has full knowledge of their feelings and intentions and understands their emotions. The omniscient narrator is always written in the past tense and this kind of narration is the traditional way of telling a story. It was used by classical writers such as Dickens and the Brontës, and perhaps less in contemporary fiction.

A non-omniscient third person past narrator is a narrator that stays with one character’s viewpoint. As opposed to an omniscient narrator which has access into every character’s viewpoint, the non-omniscient narrator is only privy into one character’s mind. It is possible to go into detail about what the character is thinking. Consider a narrator as being on a sliding scale in relationship to the character. When the narrator is close to the character, the reader is privy into the character’s every thought as if the narrator is the first person. At the other end of the scale, a narrator ‘sits on the character’s shoulder’ and tells their story without going into too much detail about their thought processes. There is a need to be careful about sentence structure: make sure it is varied. Avoid starting every sentence with ‘He/She’. It can, if not handled carefully, sound contrived when the narrator moves back in time.

A third person present narrator sticks to one person’s viewpoint, giving a sense of immediacy and easily providing an opportunity for the narrator to observe what is happening around the character. It can give a ‘poetic’ feel to the narrative as there is no past history to haunt the character. The narration occurs as events take place. It may be easier to use a mix of present tense and past tense if the narrative requires any kind of reference to past events. A novel purely written in the third person present can be difficult, though not impossible, to sustain for a full length novel.

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Amanda and I would love to hear your views so please feel free to leave your comments below. And don’t miss the next instalment on May 11th: Multiple view points and 2nd person.

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