Dear Writer Revisited: Letter Four

The Omniscient Author

In letter four, Virginia instructs Writer on the matter of Point of View, being the narrative voice on the story and the subsequent effect this method of conveyance will have on the reader.  She defines the two broad types of narration available to writers as being:

THIRD PERSON (specifically Omniscient Third Person, oddly enough, as I tend to write in a Third Person limited voice, but as she mentions that there are sub types, I can only assume this will be covered in a later chapter...)

"Anya danced until midnight with the charming prince even though her toes had turned to bleeding stumps inside her shoes."

FIRST PERSON (limited to one character and therefore flavoured by their thoughts and feelings, as well as limited by what they are privy to.)

"I had thought I was managing to be quite charming on the night of the ball, until it came time to dance with Anya, who winced throughout the waltz as though it caused her great pain to be near me."

Third person narration is identified as being the most traditional form of storytelling, going back to the oral tradition I assume, and conveying a sense of all-knowing authority on matters.  It is probably the form that most writers will be familiar with (presumably from childhood, as I cannot think of many children's books written in First Person, though I am sure there are some) and therefore, is probably a style writers feel comfortable using.  But hold your horses there bucko!  Maybe you're doing it wrong!  Let's check in with Virginia before we proceed.

Keep in mind when you are using third person omniscient that your narrator WILL NOT MAKE MISTAKES because THEY KNOW EVERYTHING.  There is such a thing as an unreliable narrator, and you can be pretty clever with those, but then you want to move into observer narration which is a whole different kettle of fish.  You must be passionate about your material and you must be dedicated enough to check your facts.  If you don't someone will notice.  I'm serious, they will.  And that person will be my grandfather, and he will return the book to you with the mistake circled in pencil because he was a teacher and those folks are meticulous.  So just check your facts, okay?

First person narration builds on character.  And the best way to demonstrate this is with an example, so without further ado, here's exercise four.

I looked over my shoulder before getting into the car to be sure no one was following me.  It was 7:05 in the evening in Bogota.  It had been dark for an hour, the Parque Nacional was not well lit and the silhouettes of leafless trees against a sad, overcast sky seemed ghostly, but nothing appeared to be threatening.  I chose to sit behind the driver.  I've always found it the more comfortable seat.  Beatriz climbed in through the other door and sat to my right.  We were almost an hour behind schedule, and I fear we both looked tired after a soporific afternoon of executive meetings-- myself in particular as I had hosted a party the night before and only managed to get three hours sleep.  I stretched my legs, closed my eyes and leaned back against the seat.  "Please take us home," I said.  

Here I had changed a paragraph from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's News of a Kidnapping from third person to first person narration, giving you more of a sense of the speaker, Maruja.  We get the idea of her as being nervous, authoritative, rich, cosmopolitan and busy.  We see how she sees herself and the world.  We could only know this in third person if the narrator had told us so, although we could be told what she was doing, saying and the facts of her life, but her thoughts and feelings would be distanced from us.

Still excellent though, Mr Marquez.  Gosh, I'd love to hug you...

What do you think?  Do you prefer first or third person?

Another short letter here.  I would have liked a longer one perhaps, but I am looking forward to future letters on the difference sub-types of points of view.