Thursday, January 24, 2013

Narration Part II - Third Person Narrators

Here is the continuation of my exposition on the relative merits of different narrative points of view. Tonight I will share with you all my thoughts on the third person narrator, starting by going back to my go to for conceptual terminology, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. The dictionary points out something that anyone who reads a lot already knows: third person narration is the most common type of narration. Although I wonder how accurate that statement is now? Because I have come across a fair amount of recently published books (say the last 5-8 years) that are first person, although that could just speak to the type of books that I have come across because first person does seem to be more prevalent in certain genres than others.

In addition to being popular it is also unique among narrative perspectives, first person and second person (the rarest perspective) are both singular in their incarnations, with third person however you can have:

Third Person Omniscient Narrators: I personally have always had a big soft spot for omniscient third person narrators, that perspective is definitely my favourite. Omniscient narrators are all-knowing, they can see and explain the thoughts and actions of every character and every situation in the text. 

Third Person Limited Narrators:Also known as restricted narrators. This type of third person narrator often ends up facing the same issues first person narrators face when it comes to to knowledge of the characters and situations. There are things they don't know and therefore the reader cannot come to know them.

My top 3 Pros & Cons of omniscient third person narration

1. Infinite knowledge of the characters
& situations
1. Depending on the writing style,
can come off as looking down on the
2. Usually more objective than other
2. Potential for information overload
3. Enables more well rounded development
of all characters
3. No direct connection to the main
character (it's a con when you love the 
main character!)

My top 3 Pros & Cons of limited third person narration

1. Intimate knowledge of some/
most of the characters & situations
1. Missing information, limited
insights into characters & plot
2. Usually more objective than other
2. Potential for inconsistencies if
the writer can't remember what limits
he/she has given the narrator
3. Easier to withhold information
that could give away important elements
3. No direct connection to the main
character (it's a con when you love the 
main character!)

Don't Panic when the Guide
goes off on a narrative tangent
A fair few of my favourite novels are third person narratives. It's not often that I come across a third person narrator that I dislike. Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite novels are J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels; I love everything about them, especially the way she does third person narration. Her limited third person narration is brilliant in my humble opinion; the further into the series you get the more secrets are revealed that the narrator has expertly kept from the reader until that point. My all time, ultimate favourite when it comes to narrators though HAS to be the uber-omniscient third person narrator in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. I know I said up there that information overload could be a con, but I get far too much enjoyment out of it the way Adams does it, the narrator is just so irreverent and funny. Since reading this series I have found that Adams' narrative style here has heavily influenced my own.

Some other third person narrators that I particularly enjoyed? Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry, Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, Donita K. Paul's DragonKeeper Chronicles and last but certainly not least because they are another of my all time favourites Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

The epitome of omniscient third
person narration...but a little too
much information overload 
Now obviously I don't like every third person narrator that I read; a person cannot like EVERY book they read it just doesn't happen that way. Some of the narrators that I am not a huge fan of will probably have people shouting things like "BLASPHEMER!" or "YOU CLAIM TO BE A FANTASY FAN!??!" at their screens but like I said a person cannot enjoy every book they read and I have my reasons for disliking these. Firstly Gregory Maguire's Wicked I love the concept, and the story, but the actual narration just did me in. I found it slow and plodding in spots and actually ended up having to force myself to finish it; it took me a month and a half which is almost unheard of with the way that I read. Another that I didn't enjoy? R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing trilogy. I REALLY wanted to love this series, especially because the author is Canadian, but it was just too heavy and slow for my tastes and a far different kind of information overload than Douglas Adams. And speaking of problems with information overload, here's where I'm going to get the most grief: I do not enjoy J.R.R. Tolkien's writing style; I LOVE the stories and the characters and the world and I am in absolute AWE of the painstaking level of detail he put into things, but there's just too much information overload in the story for me. I've had the books read to me and that I enjoyed, but trying to read them myself I just couldn't wade through everything. I have the same problem with Charles Dickens and any other writer who was paid by the word.

In the end I think I probably enjoy third person just slightly more than I enjoy first person. Really I'm happy either way so long as I have a reliable narrator who isn't trying to fry my synapses with unnecessary information and who doesn't give away all the important details too early. What about you what are you narrative preferences?

-- Ren

1 comment:

  1. I too am on the fence. Some of my favorite books are in the first person (Hunger Games), but others are in the third (Harry Potter and of course The Looking Glass Wars). It's a tough choice. For me, as long as it is a great story, it doesn't necessarily matter if it is third or first!