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  1. #16
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS View Post
    And how is that different than what I said? Narrator or pov is not the tense of the piece. It's not first, second, or third person. The tense is how the narrator or pov is narrating the story.
    I'm a bit confused about what you're saying now, so I can't answer clearly. I'll try later as I progress through your post, so bear with me.

    As with many writing terms, there is disagreement as to definitions and connotations and many words for the same thing, ie tight third is also called intimate third.
    Yes, terms are used differently - i.e. the same term may have different meanings. Also, the same meanings are often covered by different terms.

    But the terms take their meaning from an over-reaching theory (there are always assumptions made that give the terms meaning), so that there is no guarantee that two terms that - in general - describe the same stories are the same; there may just be a huge overlap.

    So, above you're saying that "tense is how the narrator or pov is narrating the story." Why does that confuse me?

    1. "Tense" is a state that (finite) verbs are in. "I go." = present tense. "I went." = past tense. (Beyond that it gets murky in grammatical theory, so I'll sweep that under the carpet for now.) Clearly, when we're talking about "present tense narration", we're drawing on the grammatical meaning, but we're not talking about the state a verb is in - we're talking about the state that [what?] is in.

    See?

    It is related to point of view, to be sure. But how? What are we exactly saying? And that leads me to:

    2. "narrator or pov is narrating". How can a point of view perform the action of narrating? What is it that you are referring to, when you're saying "pov" in that sentence?

    The narrator is, on a primary level, a person telling a story. But theory tends to use that in a more abstract manner, using "person" as a metaphor.

    The narrator is the focal point for the point-of-view concept. That is: when a narrator tells you that something is bad, does the narrator think that thing is bad, or is he channeling a different character at the time that he is saying that.

    A real life example:

    You hit your finger with a hammer and say "Ouch!". The ouch is uttered by you (= you are the narrator). The "Ouch" represents your pain (= you are the point of view character).

    I watch you hit your finger with a hammer, and I cringe at that, saying "Ouch!". I am the source of the utterance, but I the pain I am feeling is surrogate pain, empathy. My "Ouch" represents your pain. You are the point of view character.

    This is the reason we need a concept such as point-of-view in the first place: there can be a difference between who speaks, and who experiences.

    But this does not seem to be the way you are using the terms in above sentence, as "pov" can engage in "telling the story". Perhaps, I've been misunderstanding you. Or not understanding you at all?

    Huh? First person tells me the narration is coming from one character who may or may not be in the story. It is not, however, telling me the pov (see above re: voice vs pov). First person can be omniscient, ie God telling us a story about some humans or aliens. Or the first person pov can be a character in the piece.
    If that were the case, there would be no stories that could not be analysed as first person. Any story at all is told by "one character". That may just be an assumption (and it's challanged in narratology by some people, who make a difference between "narration" and "representation", and claim that some of the stories that others - not narratologists - call third person limited have no narrator at all, but that's getting really complecated now...).

    I've never seen any analysis that works that way either. For example, George Eliot's narrator in Middlemarch has an identifiable personality, and talks to the reader using first person pronouns. Yet, it's usually referred to as a third person narrator.

    You could split the story in two: story telling contex + story context, in which case it would be fine to argue that the narrator is a first person narrator in story telling context, but a third person narrator in the story context.

    A narrator, even first person ones, can be reliable or unreliable. If unreliable, they can be withholding info, letting us know they're withholding info, not letting us know they're withholding info, have faulty memories, have no memories of some incidents or details, etc.

    Whether a character is or isn't in the story tells me nothing about the pov. Who is that narrator? That's what I want to know. Everything else will follow from who he, she, or it is. At least for everything I've ever read.
    Well, we do treat eye-witness accounts differently from hearsay. And that's why we're making a difference between first person (in-story pov) and third person (out-story pov) narration. Of course, out-story pov don't necessarily rely on hearsay. They could be, wait for it, "omniscient".

    It does boil down to reliability, which is why some theorists think an "unreliable omniscient narrator" is a contradiction in terms, even though I disagree.

    You're absolutely right that the question is "Who is the narrator?" and everything follows from that. But the story point of view is not necessarily the narrator's. That was the big novelty of what we now term "third limited". A narrator hiding behind a character surrogate, more or less successfully.

    Uh, no. The book I mentioned, A Prayer for the Dying, led to a very interesting book discussion with a group of librarians. Some of us thought the main character was the narrator, as I know many people who speak of themselves in second person. Others thought they, the reader, was the "you." And one person thought God was telling the story.

    Second person is simply a method of narrating. It's not the narrator/pov.
    Yes, second person is simply a method of narrating. The identity of the narrator can be open - I can identify myself as the "author" of the story and say such things as "You'll never know why I made you up. That would mess up my plans." And later: "Why are you misbehaving so?" Things like that. I can establish in the manner that I am the author, and this is my character.

    Similarly, a psychologist could get carried away investigating a suicide of a person he didn't know in life, and imagine how it was for him/her, addressing the suicide.

    But from what you're saying I imagine that in A Prayer for the Dying we have no hint as to the identity of the narrator. Many second person pieces work like that (an example I can think of from my own reading experience would be the second person bits of Ian McDonald's "The Undifferentiated Object of Desire"). But having no hint as to the identity of the narrator is significant in terms of point of view. It means that - whenever we have evaluative statements - these have to attributed to a character.

    Example A:

    You and Jeannie watch the animal. Jeannie thinks that it's an ant eater. But that's not true. It's an aardvark.

    Example B:

    You and Jeannie watch the animal. The two of you think that it's an ant eater. But that's not true. It's an aardvark.

    Example B is obvious: an external narrator corrects the assumption of characters. This interpretation is available for Example A, too. The narrator could be correcting Jeannie's assumption. Another interpretation would be that what we're getting here is the addressed character's pov. The addressed character is correcting Jeannie, not the narrator. These are different situations, and how we read lines like these depends on how we parse point of view.

    If we never had a sign of the narrator, I think we're more likely to assume that the point-of-view character (addressed by the narrator) is correcting Jeannie.

    Point of view is very complex. The same words can be ambiguous as to who we attribute the words on the page to (narrator or character), but the ambiguity is - in practise - resolved by the picture we have of the "point of view situation", which is a complex construct we create as we read.

    I want to point out that this usually does not create any problems for the readers. Usually, the ambiguities will all be "invisible" to the reader; as the point of view situation takes care of this. It's a problem for the analyst.

    If I go all scientific on you all: the empirical data is twofold: the text and the reading experience; the text (= the words on the page) is always the same, but the reading experience varies. It is possible that two different readers construct different point of view situations, and thus will have different assumptions about what characters know, which can lead to a slightly different story.

    Basically there are three related questions:

    1. Who is the source of the words on the page?

    2. Whose perspective do the words on the page relate?

    3. In whose voice do the words on the page relate the perspective?

    So, going back to the situation, where I watch you hit your thumb with a hammer and say "Ouch".

    1. I am the source of the word "Ouch".

    2. You are the source of the experience that the word "Ouch" relates.

    3. (a) If I don't normally say "ouch" but you do, I'm not only taking your perspective, I'm also taking your voice.

    (a) If I normally say "ouch", but you don't, then I'm only taking your perspective, but use my own voice to relate it.

    (c) If both of us normally say "ouch", then it's both our voices and we have no usueful clue to settle that question.

    (d) If neither of us normally say "ouch", then I'm probably following a social script. I'm not really sure how to parse voice in that case, since "narrative distance" interfers.

    I really think that asking such questions is a better way into learning to deal with pov than puzzling out the terms, especially since they're pretty crude to begin with.

    The best way to get our terms straight would be to apply them to a specific text. If you're interested we could try pov analysis of a (short) predetermined text. Out of time now. I'm hoping I haven't created even more confusion (though experience has me expect just that .)

  2. #17
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    I usually write in third person, but in one book, The Speed of Dark, had to go to third person present tense--a difficult POV to sustain "pure" for technical reasons, esp. if the character thinks differently than the writer--as it was the only way to convey the quality of autistic cognition. I had started it in third person, past tense, shifted first to third/present to get the immediacy, and then realized it had to be first person/present to show what I wanted to show. The trick in that case it to be able to suppress one's own personality, way of thinking, and voice during a session...to show that Other.

    I find second-person offputting, both to read and to write, although in nonfiction (on blog entries, for instance) I am quite comfortable with "you" in both the specific and general sense. As a reader, I feel that I'm being coerced into the POV, rather than invited in--forced to become the player-character, rather than allowed to observe him/her from outside, and it's particularly annoying when the character differs from me in important ways. First person is the POV talking directly to me--I'm still me, the character's still the character, though if I want to, I can "fall into" that POV.

    In a conversation elsewhere on POV, Charlie Stross (who does second person POVs brilliantly, though I still find them unpalatable) said that he found some people really liked it and others really hated it, whereas nearly everyone will read a third person POV without a hitch.

  3. #18
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    The Speed of Dark was a wonderful book. The pov worked very well, as did the voice. I can't imagine it written any other way. Same as I can't imagine O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying written in anything other than second person present tense, which didn't seem offputting or forced at all. If I'd read either had they been written differently, I might not have thought plain old tight third past tense for ex was wrong for them, but as they are, they were written in just the perfect voice/tense/pov for them. Somethings just click with a reader, and with a writer.

  4. #19
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Eddie, you can't completely ignore common parlance just because it's technically inaccurate in academic theory. (In the same way that I cannot ignore the word "genre" just because it is used in the marketplace differently from its dictionary/academic definition.)

    And in the common parlance, the narrator is the point-of-view -- is the camera. So for instance your example of a person hitting himself with a hammer and another person observing it and narrating the incident, and you saying the observing person is the narrator and the person hit with the hammer is the point-of-view character -- that's not going to work for most people. For them, the observer is the point-of-view narrator -- giving them the picture of the person hitting the hammer, and the person hit with the hammer is the focal character whose feelings are guessed at, but not known for certain, not definitively given. Likewise the Middlemarch omniscient narrator is technically a first person omniscient because that's how they tended to do it back then, but gets called third person by some because it relates the characters and their pov in third person.

    It all comes down to inner thought. Whosever inner thoughts and feelings we get, they are the narrating pov character in people's conception, the camera in charge of the story for that part. All narration -- observation, description, dialogue, description of action, metaphor, etc. is considered to be coming through their psyche (their point-of-view of things,) unless we get the inner thoughts and feelings of some other character, who then is taking over for that part of narrative.

    For straight first person, this is very easy to see -- one narrator, one point-of-view of the whole story, all other characters have their thoughts and feelings interpreted by the first person pov narrator. For third person tight, limited, intimate, whatever the f they call it, which is like straight first person or revolving/alternating first person, it is also very easy to see because it is one character, one point-of-view, one narrator to deal with at any one time. Even second person, which usually uses first person or third person limited as the jumping off point, can be therefore relatively easy to follow in terms of whose inner viewpoint you're getting.

    Where things get more confusing on a writing comprehension level (but not on an instinctual reading or construction level,) is the different uses of omniscience, and not the technical, full-out omniscience but the working definition of the thing. Omniscience can come in many shades, allowing an outside narrator point-of-view and the ability of that narrator to telescope in to characters' inner thoughts and feelings, in whole or in part, and shuffle them like a deck of cards during a scene or just use one at a time. It can be done in first, second or third person, and done a lot of different ways.

    And this gets harder for people to pinpoint, because they have actually no problem processing forms of omniscience at all, but have often been told that it is problematic. (Rocket Sheep speculated that this idea was actually started in Australia from a writing instructor and spread. I don't think it's been as much as an issue in the oughts as it was in the 1990's.) But if you focus them on who's thinking what when, then it tends to fall into place conceptually.

    Right now, I'm reading two well-selling fantasy novels that are both written in third person omniscient, in a similar fashion though somewhat different from each other. Before that, I read a first person historical mystery. For me, it's just like shifting from one type of lens to another, one sort of framework for narration to another. But I can understand that some people like to stick with one lens for reading or writing.

    If you take it down to the atomic level, it gets a lot more complicated than that, but most writers and most readers are not analyzing it at the atomic level, even when it's something like first person semi-omniscient or mixed first and third person with bits of second person, etc. They are looking at it as to who is telling the story, which translates into whose brain are we in at the moment.

  5. #20
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Thanks, KatG. I never could have explained pov so well, though I did give it a muddled try.

    I don't recall encountering a usage such as the hammer, etc, before, so had no idea how to properly address it.

    Point of View is whose view is telling the story. A good omniscient first person narrator (I think it was omnisicent, but it's been a while since I read the book) is Arturo Perez-Riverte's The Club Dumas, which is infinitely better than the horrid movie they made of it (in which they cut out half the plot and lost the whole point of the story). The narrator, a book dealer as I recall, appears at the start and once later on, but otherwise is telling a story about other character's as he knows it to have happened. It's his pov, not the main characters driving the story, even if the "I" pronoun is rarely seen. Mostly, it's told in third person past tense, which is the style or voice or method or whatever, but not the pov. The guy narrating is the pov.

  6. #21
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    So for instance your example of a person hitting himself with a hammer and another person observing it and narrating the incident, and you saying the observing person is the narrator and the person hit with the hammer is the point-of-view character -- that's not going to work for most people. For them, the observer is the point-of-view narrator -- giving them the picture of the person hitting the hammer, and the person hit with the hammer is the focal character whose feelings are guessed at, but not known for certain, not definitively given.
    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS
    I don't recall encountering a usage such as the hammer, etc, before, so had no idea how to properly address it.
    Ah, well. It was an analogy. I was only talking about the "Ouch," not the entire situation. It is not a narrative situation, so there is no narrator in the situation, but the relation between the origin of the utterance and origin of the feeling is roughly the same as the narrator to point-of-view character.

    Since the analogy failed to get that point across, it was a bad analogy. I've used it before. It failed, then, too. It is a bad analogy and I won't be using it again. (If I can remember that it's a bad analogy. It's hard to remember that as I happen to like it. )

    Likewise the Middlemarch omniscient narrator is technically a first person omniscient because that's how they tended to do it back then, but gets called third person by some because it relates the characters and their pov in third person.
    Okay. Why, exactly, is the Middlemarch narrator a "first person omniscient" narrator. Because she's a narrator and says "I" with respect to herself? To me, that's not enough, and if that's common parlance, than I do indeed think your better off without any terms than with that.

    Why? Because, as you say, this requires an equation of narrator and point-of-view. How, then, do we account for third limited, whose very definition is that the narrator never uses his own point of view, but hides behind a view-point character.

    Every narrator is an "I" in the context of the telling; some refer to themselves, and some are more direct in that than others. A point-of-view concept that does not allow for the question whether a narrator gives his own point of view or someone else's is no point-of-view concept at all.

    It all comes down to inner thought. Whosever inner thoughts and feelings we get, they are the narrating pov character in people's conception, the camera in charge of the story for that part.
    Okay:

    And in the common parlance, the narrator is the point-of-view -- is the camera.
    This is confusing me no end. "Narrating pov character", where "narrator is the point-of-view"? "The camera"? So a third person limited narrator is really the point of view character with the silly affectation of speaking about himself in the third person? What other interpretation does this terminology allow? There is more to third limited. That the point-of-view character is not the narrator is essential; it's not a verbal tick.

    All narration -- observation, description, dialogue, description of action, metaphor, etc. is considered to be coming through their psyche (their point-of-view of things,) unless we get the inner thoughts and feelings of some other character, who then is taking over for that part of narrative.
    Who is "their", and how - if point-of-view and narrator is the same thing - can some other character even take over? Are we now making the distinction instead of sweeping it under carpet, to save the "common parlance"?

    For straight first person, this is very easy to see -- one narrator, one point-of-view of the whole story, all other characters have their thoughts and feelings interpreted by the first person pov narrator. For third person tight, limited, intimate, whatever the f they call it, which is like straight first person or revolving/alternating first person, it is also very easy to see because it is one character, one point-of-view, one narrator to deal with at any one time. Even second person, which usually uses first person or third person limited as the jumping off point, can be therefore relatively easy to follow in terms of whose inner viewpoint you're getting.
    Actually, third limited is easiest, because the "hiding" of narrator's point of view is it's defining feature. The ease of first person is deceptive, because it's the same person - but at different parts in the biography. That's one of the reasons to use third limited; no (= little) difference between the telling and told.

    Where things get more confusing on a writing comprehension level (but not on an instinctual reading or construction level,) is the different uses of omniscience, and not the technical, full-out omniscience but the working definition of the thing. Omniscience can come in many shades, allowing an outside narrator point-of-view and the ability of that narrator to telescope in to characters' inner thoughts and feelings, in whole or in part, and shuffle them like a deck of cards during a scene or just use one at a time. It can be done in first, second or third person, and done a lot of different ways.
    And this the source of my contention. I don't think that things get confusing at omniscient; I think that's where the symptoms start to show, but the entire concept is corrupt from the get go. I think that the common near-equation between third limtied and first person, for example, is already part of the confusion (but an unacknowledged part). Omniscient is just where it falls apart - the scapegoat.

    If you take it down to the atomic level, it gets a lot more complicated than that, but most writers and most readers are not analyzing it at the atomic level, even when it's something like first person semi-omniscient or mixed first and third person with bits of second person, etc. They are looking at it as to who is telling the story, which translates into whose brain are we in at the moment.
    Yeah, and as long as the theory-babble doesn't trickle down into what writers actually do I don't care what they call what. Sadly, I've seen plenty of critiques that shout "headhopping" or "narrative intrusion" or "breaking the fourth wall" for no good reason I can see. I have the nagging feeling that theory-innocent readers are better critics than theory-corrupted writers.

    ***

    Finally, this post of yours helped me spot a yearlong misunderstanding: whenever you said "first person omniscient" I should have translated that for myself to "third person omniscient with an overt narrator who refers to him/herself in comments". Instead I always thought of situations like Moby Dick, where Ishmael tells us what Ahab did alone in his cabin (emphasis being on "alone").

  7. #22
    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    Ah, well. It was an analogy. I was only talking about the "Ouch," not the entire situation. It is not a narrative situation, so there is no narrator in the situation, but the relation between the origin of the utterance and origin of the feeling is roughly the same as the narrator to point-of-view character.

    Since the analogy failed to get that point across, it was a bad analogy. I've used it before. It failed, then, too. It is a bad analogy and I won't be using it again. (If I can remember that it's a bad analogy. It's hard to remember that as I happen to like it. )
    I thought it more an example to illustrate your point rather than an analogy, but it made no sense to me re: pov, since everything I've ever read or heard re: pov in writing has to do with the view of the narrator, and there's always a narrator as the words have to come from somewhere even if the narrator isn't always obvious. In referring to your post, I used the hammer example because it was a quick and easy way to do so.

    Why? Because, as you say, this requires an equation of narrator and point-of-view. How, then, do we account for third limited, whose very definition is that the narrator never uses his own point of view, but hides behind a view-point character.
    I'm not skilled enough to explain this as KatG is and I've never read Middlemarch, but the narrator is the pov as I see it. The view is who's telling the story, whether omniscient and able to tell us what other characters are thinking/feeling without it being a supposition, or a tight third limited intimate whatever where the narrator is conveying only what he or she knows for a fact, including their own feelings and thoughts and must make guesses re: the other character's inner thoughts if they even bother to consider the other characters. It's their view of the story that's being told that is the pov.

    It seems to me that you are mixing up how pov works, but I don't think I'm the right person to explain it.

  8. #23
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    It's simple, Eddie, you have to dump your definition of what a narrator is.

    Because that's not how most writers and readers use the word narrator. The narrator, for them, is either a point-of-view character (one whose inner thoughts and feelings, etc. we get) or an omniscient narrator (omniscient pov,) who then can also go into character's heads and give us their thoughts and feelings.

    It's been so long since I read Middlemarch -- back in school -- that I honestly don't remember what format it used. I was going from what you were saying about it. But let me run through these things again, and see if it makes sense (don't use any lit theory here.)

    Third person limited is when the text is in third person, but there is no omniscient narrator ever. Instead, there is one pov character whose inner thoughts and feelings we get, in third person. We see what they see, etc., and we get their interpretation of it. We cannot get anything outside of their viewpoint (if they don't see it, it's not in the picture.) In this, it's nearly identical to first person, except that it doesn't have that talking to the audience aspect of first. Instead, it's just the character thinking and observing and we're listening in. At a break in the text -- chapter or section -- the author can switch if desired to another character's pov. This is what George Martin does in A Song of Ice and Fire, which is written in third person limited, because he's limiting the perspective to the viewpoint of one character per chapter.

    At the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Rowling has the delivery of infant Harry to his relatives and she does it in third person omniscient. We don't get the inner thoughts of Dumbledore or other characters. We don't get Dumbledore's view of the street, etc. Instead, we are given that information through the omniscient narrator. The rest of the story is told in Harry's pov, and only Harry's. At various other points in the series, Rowling has omniscient passages when Harry's not around. When he is, she just uses his pov, with occasional sneaky bits of omniscience. But the use of the passage makes the book third person omniscient as the format. If Rowling had chosen instead to make it third person limited, that first section of the first novel would have been done through Dumbledore's point-of-view or the witch's or some character's, no omniscient narrator.

    As I said, right now I'm reading two third person omniscient novels that are category bestsellers: Dawnthief by James Barclay and the first novel of Orcs by Stan Nicholls. Both authors use the omniscient narrator, giving information not from any characters' inner pov, and both "head-hop" between characters' inner thoughts/pov during scenes, giving multiple perspectives of what is going on, in addition to any omniscient description they may have. This works particularly well for them in battle scenes where they can jump from one character engaged with an opponent to another character engaged with another opponent, plus provide overhead views as needed. The character viewpoints are filtered through the omniscient narration (the omniscient narrator tells us the characters' thoughts and perspectives in addition to other information not from any characters' particular pov.)

    But a lot of writers got taught that omniscient is wrong, that writers should only write in third person limited if they write in third person. This was based on the idea that new writers are not very good at handling head-hopping, etc., and so shouldn't do it at all, often along with the erroneous advice that editors and agents (who are always presented as acting with one hive mind,) didn't like third person omniscient features in narrative. It's less prevalent I think now than it was in the 1990's, when I was teaching classes and having to deal with a lot of it, but I'm sure it still shows up in critique groups. Many writers, however, simply do third person omniscient instinctively and are perfectly fine with it, and it's in the marketplace a very commonly used format.

    First person omniscient and first person semi-omniscient are rarer formats that play with narration and pov. A first person omniscient narrator may or may not be a character in the story, refers to itself as "I" but knows the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in the story and provides them, essentially acting as an author voice. A first person semi-omniscient format uses a first person pov character as the narrator and this character has been told the inner thoughts and feelings of other characters by those characters or guesses what they were in situations in which the narrator may or may not be present, and relates them as if it were a third person text. Two good ones are The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns and Charming Billy by Alice McDermott.

    Now of course you can get a lot more complicated than that in parsing these things out. Princess Bride alone, with multiple omniscient narrators, can keep one busy. But conceptually, so that writers can follow it, whose head one is in at a moment in the narrative is the key factor. And you can say that well, a lot of the narrative isn't actually from the character's pov, but as long as there isn't something that is clearly outside the character's pov, readers process it as that character's perspective, until there is information that indicates otherwise, that says now we're in another character's perspective or getting omniscient narration outside of the characters' pov's. So the formats are just how those inner pov's are organized. Unfortunately, many writers turn it into a form of religion, which I presume is what McDonald was talking about in part.

    So the guy who hits himself with a hammer in your analogy isn't a pov character from a common parlance standpoint, even if he's the focus of the scene, because we're not getting his inner thoughts and feelings and view of the accident of the hammer. He's an acting character. We're getting the view of the incident from another character's inner pov, so that character is the pov character, the observer and narrator of that scene, through whose head we are seeing the incident occur.

    Is that clear, or are we doing our talking in circles thing again?

  9. #24
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG
    Is that clear, or are we doing our talking in circles thing again?
    All this post does for me is to confirm that I didn't misunderstand you where I thought I knew what you were saying. (I was a bit shaky on a couple of points.)

    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    It's simple, Eddie, you have to dump your definition of what a narrator is.

    Because that's not how most writers and readers use the word narrator. The narrator, for them, is either a point-of-view character (one whose inner thoughts and feelings, etc. we get) or an omniscient narrator (omniscient pov,) who then can also go into character's heads and give us their thoughts and feelings.
    Dumping my definition is fine. Picking up what you say most writers and readers say is a no-no. That's like dumping your glasses and replacing them with sunglasses. You can do that, but you'd better not rely on your vision afterwards.

    Unless there are compensating merits I am missing. (Allowing lazy thinkers not to think is not one I'll accept.)

    Then, for large stretches of your post, I'm more or less with you (let's leave it at that ).

    A first person omniscient narrator may or may not be a character in the story, refers to itself as "I" but knows the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in the story and provides them, essentially acting as an author voice.
    Here I think you're wrong about what's commonly held. To be a first person narrator, you have to be part of the story (even if only in a frame-work sense, such as the arctic explorer in Frankenstein).

    I've googled "first person omniscient" often enough, but have never seen any evidence that this refers to non-characters. Most texts mention Moby Dick. Non-character "Is" are usually talked about as third omni.

    You're the only one I ever heard using it like this, but since this is the first time I actually understood what you mean by that, I can't know whether I've misunderstood others, too. Do you have examples of others using first person whenever an omniscient narrator says "I"?

    And how do we justify that? Some narrators are just as clearly persons, even though they never say "I". (I'm thinking of the narrator of Jonathan Strange - but I can't say with confidence that she never once says "I" with respect to herself.) Where do we draw the line?

    Unfortunately, many writers turn it into a form of religion, which I presume is what McDonald was talking about in part.
    Yep, partly. But in a discussion with the mundanistas, he mentioned that - while he's sympathetic to many things they say - he'd rather not have the boxes to tick. Sounds like he's an intuitive writer and theorising hampers the creative flow. I don't really know, though.

    So the guy who hits himself with a hammer in your analogy isn't a pov character from a common parlance standpoint, even if he's the focus of the scene, because we're not getting his inner thoughts and feelings and view of the accident of the hammer. He's an acting character.
    You didn't understand what analogy I was trying to make. His being the focus of the scene has very little to do with it. The text to analyse is:

    Ouch!

    We, the readers, know already that a character has hit his hammer with a nail, and that the "Ouch!" refers to that situation.

    (a) The natural assumption we make is that the character is saying "Ouch!"

    (b) But if we have an intervening narrator, we know that this "Ouch!" does not emanate from the character. However, we still attribute the "ouch" to the character rather than the narrator.

    (c) Whether we are thinking of the narrator at all at that point depends on the stealth skills of the narrator.

    (d) Very few people will ever view this "Ouch!" as a break from the narrative that points towards, say, a book falling on the narrator. Thus we do not get the narrator's point-of-view.

    (e) Of course, we do get the narrator's point-of-view, in the sense that the narrators point-of-view is bound up with the character's point-of-view; in the sense that the narrator is experiencing empathy. But even viewed like this we still have "voice" to consider. (For example, is the character the type to say "ouch", or would he just yelp something untranscribable?)

    Which means that narrator and point-of-view character need not be the same person.

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    Been following along (good stuff btw), and while I'm not about to jump into the "what's what" POV debate, I will add:

    My personal preference is to write in 1st. I just like the way it flows when I'm mashing away at the keyboard.

    For reading, I can't say I have much of a preference on novels (though it does seem that everything I pick up is 3rd limited), but where short stories are concerned, I'm normally drawn to those written in 1st. I haven't exactly examined why that is for me. Perhaps its because 3rd limited loses a lot of its advantages in short story form, where you're usually confined to one characters viewpoint for the piece?

    Also, something I'm gathering from this thread as well as elsewhere, it seems to me that if you use 3rd limited - no questions asked. However, if you go with 1st, you must defend/justify your reasons for choosing it. But I could be wrong...


    (As a side note: This sentence made my head explode )
    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    All this post does for me is to confirm that I didn't misunderstand you where I thought I knew what you were saying.

  11. #26
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    However, if you go with 1st, you must defend/justify your reasons for choosing it. But I could be wrong...
    You're wrong. First person is simply a way of telling a story. The author never has to defend or justify choices of structure and format, cause readers don't get a say in it.

    (As a side note: This sentence made my head explode )
    When Dawnstorm and I ramble, best to close your eyes.

    Picking up what you say most writers and readers say is a no-no. That's like dumping your glasses and replacing them with sunglasses. You can do that, but you'd better not rely on your vision afterwards.

    Unless there are compensating merits I am missing. (Allowing lazy thinkers not to think is not one I'll accept.)
    It's the way writers think and the way readers process narrative. You're trying to come at it from a linguistics, sentence structure angle, I think, but that's not what most writers do with pov. I'm not sure that's what you do with pov either, as a writer.

    To be a first person narrator, you have to be part of the story (even if only in a frame-work sense, such as the arctic explorer in Frankenstein).
    It usually is someone who is a character voice in some way, but I wouldn't want to rule it out as not. Do we count William Goldman's version of himself in Princess Bride as a first person or third person omniscient voice, given that he's not actually in the story but making first person footnotes? First person omniscient is rare, and I haven't an easy example, I'm afraid. I think I read a short story with it, but I don't have it written down. But it is possible for an author to do, and possibly with a first person omniscient voice that is not a character, though I agree that is usually referred to as third person omniscient, and I'd characterize Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell as third person omniscient.

    As for Moby Dick, it is a classic I have not read. Does Ishmael know, magically without being told them or guessing, the inner thoughts and feelings of other characters and relays them as those characters' thoughts? Because otherwise Ishmael isn't omniscient, he's a first person pov character. He may be "semi-omniscient" in that he's relating character thoughts he has been told or guesses at for events at which he is not present, but unless he can go into their heads, he's not omniscient.

    We, the readers, know already that a character has hit his hammer with a nail, and that the "Ouch!" refers to that situation.

    (a) The natural assumption we make is that the character is saying "Ouch!"

    (b) But if we have an intervening narrator, we know that this "Ouch!" does not emanate from the character. However, we still attribute the "ouch" to the character rather than the narrator.

    (c) Whether we are thinking of the narrator at all at that point depends on the stealth skills of the narrator.

    (d) Very few people will ever view this "Ouch!" as a break from the narrative that points towards, say, a book falling on the narrator. Thus we do not get the narrator's point-of-view.

    (e) Of course, we do get the narrator's point-of-view, in the sense that the narrators point-of-view is bound up with the character's point-of-view; in the sense that the narrator is experiencing empathy. But even viewed like this we still have "voice" to consider. (For example, is the character the type to say "ouch", or would he just yelp something untranscribable?)

    Which means that narrator and point-of-view character need not be the same person.
    They don't work like that for construction. Narrator and point-of-view character can be not the same if the narrator is the author omniscient narrator, not a character. But if you have two characters, one who hits himself with the hammer and the other observing it, and if we receive the inner thoughts of the observing character during the event, whether the observing character is written in first person or third, the observing character is the point-of-view narrator of the scene. We are not getting the point-of-view of the character who hits himself with the hammer because we do not get his inner thoughts. We get to see his actions, his speech: "Ouch!", etc., as observed, related, analyzed and interpreted by the observing pov character.

    So if you have it:

    John brought the hammer down in a vicious swing. The nail went flying from his grasp and the hammer slammed against the side of his thumb.

    "Ouch!" he yelped and sucked the injured digit.

    George sighed. He knew John always got worked up when he and Mary were fighting. He would have to talk John into taking a break and getting a beer.


    The reader will process the entire text as coming from George's point-of-view. They will process the interpretation of John's speech as yelping as coming from George's point-of-view, the information that George sighed as coming from George's point-of-view, etc. Because we have George's thoughts and we don't have John's. So the entire scene -- John hitting himself with a hammer -- is seen through George's perspective, relayed through his sensory observation and view of that observation.

    From a linguistic standpoint, you can argue that George is a third person character, George is not telling the story to an audience as you'd have with first person: "I sighed," and therefore the George sighed part can't be from his point-of-view but must be from the author narrator. Makes no difference. It will be processed as George's point-of-view because George as the thinking observer of the scene is aware that he sighed. It's within his point-of-view, as it would be for him to notice that his sandy hair is getting tossed around by the wind, etc.

    If, however, something comes up in the text that is clearly outside both characters' possible point-of-view: "Neither man noticed the storm clouds gathering to the east," but we still have George or John's thoughts, or if the entire scene was given without the inner thoughts of either George or John, then that's the omniscient narrator. And if we get both the inner thoughts of George and John in the scene and there's no break, then that is head-hopping omniscient narration too, which means that the author is telling the story in omniscient with forays into the heads of various characters for their observations and interpretations of parts of the scene or narrative, and that's how readers will process the text.

    In our third person example with George's thoughts and not John's and no omniscient narration then, we don't know John's point-of-view because we don't know his inner thoughts. George observes and interprets John as being upset and analyzes the likely cause for it out of what he knows about John. But George could be wrong. John may be upset for an entirely different reason, or may not have been upset at all. John may be pretending to be upset and didn't actually hit himself with the hammer as hard as it looked to George. Maybe because he wants George to buy him a beer. Or George could be exactly right. We don't know because we only have George's point-of-view of the scene. Later on, if we have John's inner thoughts, we may find out if George was right or not. Or not, if the author doesn't give us those particular relevant inner thoughts. And dialogue, while it may contain information regarding a character's thoughts, is not thought, is not point-of-view. It's action.

    Technically, this may be an incorrect use of the pov concept from structural theory. But it is how writers write characters and it is how readers process text. Which is why your analogy isn't working for most.

  12. #27
    A mere player txshusker's Avatar
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    I also won't go into PoV semantics, either -I ain't no smart scholar - but reply to the original question. I prefer to read 3rd person. 1st person to me inherently states that the outcome is happy, considering you can't tell a story if you're dead. (And if you do, I feel it's kind of a cop out.)

    Of course, that's not to say that I avoid 1st person... Steven Brust does it wonderfully. I just finished a novel by Dave Duncan done in the 1st person, and enjoyed every moment of it. But I prefer 3rd person for the mystery of ending.

    As far as writing, it's harder for me to write in the 1st person effectively than a 3rd person, so I don't try it often.

  13. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by txshusker
    I prefer to read 3rd person. 1st person to me inherently states that the outcome is happy, considering you can't tell a story if you're dead. (And if you do, I feel it's kind of a cop out.)
    Try a few of Lovecraft's stories

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    Dawnstorm said (and it's easier for me to just copy and paste here without typing in the quote coding):

    "Dumping my definition is fine. Picking up what you say most writers and readers say is a no-no. That's like dumping your glasses and replacing them with sunglasses. You can do that, but you'd better not rely on your vision afterwards."

    And that's why I realized trying to discuss this here would just lead me to continued frustration. I learned the terminology from writing books, a writing class, and spending at least years on online writing forums as well as writing blogs and LiveJournals by writers (even if there were various expressions for the same thing (intimate third, tight third).

    A point of view character is the character whose view we get of the story, situations, events, etc. I have never, until this thread, encountered anyone in the 25 years I've been seriously writing and having discussions with writers, published and unpublished, pro and amateur, who didn't see pov that way. There were people who didn't know what pov was and asked, but none who defined it as you are. And I still don't see the point or value of such a definition when it comes to writing. Filtering a narrative through pov has definite writing implications. The choices made re: pov can and will influence all that gets written.

    So, I'll just leave this to others and read from the sidelines with interest, even bemusement. But then, I always love reading what KatG has to say. She's one of those people whose posts I spent a lot of years reading on another forum. She does know what she's talking about.

  15. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by txshusker View Post
    I also won't go into PoV semantics, either -I ain't no smart scholar - but reply to the original question. I prefer to read 3rd person. 1st person to me inherently states that the outcome is happy, considering you can't tell a story if you're dead. (And if you do, I feel it's kind of a cop out.)

    Of course, that's not to say that I avoid 1st person... Steven Brust does it wonderfully. I just finished a novel by Dave Duncan done in the 1st person, and enjoyed every moment of it. But I prefer 3rd person for the mystery of ending.

    As far as writing, it's harder for me to write in the 1st person effectively than a 3rd person, so I don't try it often.
    I've read many unhappy first person books, some of which ended ambiguously, and some which had the narrator die. In one, Patricia Anthony's Flanders, a soldier in WWI is writing letters home. The last letter is written by someone else informing his family that he'd been killed.

    A critically acclaimed YA book from the '80s, The Girl in the Box by Ouida Sebestyen is told in the format of a diary being written by a kidnapped girl locked in a dark basement. She's typing on a small typewriter she had in her backpack when she was grabbed. The book ends abruptly, leaving readers to wonder if she merely passed out or died, or if she was rescued or found too late, or never found at all.

    And of course, when it comes to dead narrators, there's always The Lovely Bones. I'm sure there are others. And given the nature of sf and fantasy, I would imagine there are or could be plenty. Then again, a lot depends on what you consider a happy ending.

    I don't consider the pov when I choose a book to read. I consider the plot, the author (tho I do like to read first authors), reviews, and then I skim a bit in the middle to see if the prose grabs me. Sometimes, I'll go with a recommendation.

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