Narration Encounters of the Third Kind

If you’ve been writing for at least 30 seconds, you already know how pesky your narrator can be. It always seems like you’re halfway through your story when you realize it would be much more dynamic from the first person point of view and the ensuing struggle with deciding whether to start over or keep forging ahead feels like murder.

Well, there’s honestly not much I can do about that.

But I can help you keep your narrator on track.

I’ve been working on my thesis novel and the narrator is from the point of view from the main character, which means it’s limited to only what she knows and can see or surmise. What I didn’t realize were all the little ways your narrator, who you think is firmly under control, can sound suspiciously like another character or like an omniscient narrator altogether.

Here’s an example. In my story, I have a character look back at the main character while they’re riding in the car. My sentence was something along the lines of “she looked back at her daughter.”

Woah woah woah. Red flag. Time out. No can do.

If the point of view is through the eyes of the main character who is the daughter, why would she say that someone else “looked back at her daughter.” Makes no sense right? It took my kindly teacher pointing this out to me for me to even realize how easy it is to slip into another character’s POV.

So here are some fun little tricks I developed to help with that. These are specifically for third person. More to come on first person POV in another post!

Can you replace the noun with the character’s name?

Let’s say our main character’s name is Fred and the sentence is “He grabbed the can of beans, knowing full well what would happen later that night if he ate them.” (Killer line, right?) Is Fred the he in this sentence? If so, then type away! Or is the he some guy named Steve and Fred just happens to be in the room witnessing the event? If that’s the case, how would Fred know that Steve is going to have a gastric explosion that evening? He wouldn’t, not worded like that anyway.

If the case is the latter, then your narrator would need to say something like, “He grabbed the can of beans. Fred shook his head, knowing full well what would happen later that night if he ate them.” All that needed to be added to turn this sentence(s) back to Fred’s POV is adding in his action. It suggests that he simply knows this fact about Steve and is relaying the information to the audience. See the difference?

Does your character know or suspect this action?

Say you have characters on either side of a door. The door is shut and they can’t see each other. You cannot say with certainty that Ashley knelt to the floor if we are in Kimberly’s mind. You can say that Kimberly could envision Ashley kneeling on the floor. Or better yet, add in a thud that makes Kimberly suspect Ashley of kneeling on the floor.

Does it stay true to your character?

Are you adding in detail your character would even notice? Of course you want to set the scene, but you also need to stay in character as well. If you’re writing from the first person POV, would Jamie notice the way Patty chews her gum? Maybe if he had a crush on her, or hated gum, or if the sound of her incessant smacking was driving him crazy. But if Jamie is rather unobservant and barely even knows Patty, why would he focus in on something like that?


Think back to your favorite book with a third person narrator. What about that story made the narrator come to life for you? Reread that book and take notes. That’s what you should be doing in your own story.


Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

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