In middle school lit class, we all learn about the different types of narration: first person, third person. For third person, we have the option of third person omniscient or third person tight (limited narrator).
In third person omniscient, the narrator is basically an observer. The narrator watches things happen and describes them, different from a real-world observer mostly because they can observe and report on people’s thoughts and motivations. In their reporting, they don’t favor any particular character. Because the narrator is an independent observer, it can have its own personality. Jane Austen uses this kind of narration. In Northanger Abbey, her narrator not only knows everything that’s happening, she also has a snarky personality. (The narrator might be my favorite character in that story!)
In third person tight, there is no independent, overarching narrator. Instead, we basically get a first person narrative with third person pronouns as we watch events over the shoulder of a specific character. We see what they see and miss what they miss; we know what they are thinking, but are left in the dark about other characters’ thoughts. Since the pronouns used are third person, you can change your viewpoint character at a scene break, which means you can get multiple perspectives—but no objective “outside” perspectives.
When I was thinking about narrative points of view the other day, I realized that I almost always write in third person tight. Every scene is written from a character’s viewpoint, allowing me to play with differences between how different characters perceive what is happening. I’ve never successfully finished a story using any other point of view!
Well, that’s fine… what isn’t fine is that I realized that when I beta read something written in third person omniscient, many of my comments are directed toward trying to get the author to switch to third person tight. “Who is the viewpoint character in this scene?” “What character is giving this description? Make sure the reader can hear their distinctive voice.” “You shouldn’t describe this if none of your characters know/see it.”
While I personally think third person tight narration is more fun to read, many of the folks on the Great Books list use third person omniscient, so it can’t be the inferior choice. Now I have to go back and revise my revision comments…
What about all of you? Do you have a favorite narrative point of view to write? How about a favorite POV to read? Have any of you ever found any second-person narrated stories? (It should be theoretically possible…)