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"Mysterious Narrator" problem.

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ChaoticanWriter, Dec 26, 2018.

  1. ChaoticanWriter

    ChaoticanWriter Dreamer

    Hello everyone!

    All of you are familiar with books which are written in third-person limited through the POV of the character in question. (most books)

    Many of you are familiar with books that are written in "interview style", or a narrator who is a character or witness. (Name of the Wind, Interview with a Vampire)

    Many of you know what a "bard" is in terms of the fantasy world. (a storyteller, a performer, etc.)

    Well, I have an interesting conundrum that I'm trying to sort out. Something that's a combination of these things, and trying to see if it would really work, or not.


    I have a book that I'm writing (85,000+ words thus far) that takes place through the view of certain characters,... two main POV's, but also covering the events of certain characters as it becomes relevant.

    However, I have a supernatural character of whom I want to make the narrator. I think I have a great idea here, but I'm completely befuddled about putting it into practice.

    The challenges are thus (but I'm open to alternatives):

    1. The setup. The narrator is a "watcher", who is presented in the prologue but whose identity is not revealed.
    a. All events as the main characters (two) are in third-person limited POV of that character.
    b. The "watcher", however, allows for an "omniscient view" into other events.
    c. The "watcher", whoever he is, seems to have a very peculiar personality; sarcastic, witty, but also somewhat judgemental. Not a softie for moral things.
    d. The narrator may even break the fourth wall, and speak directly to the reader, but only during the parts where it's him talking. Not during any storytelling, or POV. (segmented off)
    2. The suspension. His voice only seems to show up in the "omniscient" prose in very few parts, but enough for the readers to know that he's there.
    a. Without revealing a lot, the story is a supernatural/fantasy fiction/thriller mashup. Lots of mystery and red-herrings. The mysterious narrator adds to that mystery, maybe?
    3. The reveal. Half-way through the book, a "shadowy figure" gets captured by allies of the main characters.
    a. During an interrogation, the "shadowy figure" reveals themselves, and through a line of questioning and clever dodges, he reveals that he is ... big proper title. (A title that has already been provided to the reader; it's the narrator!)
    b. Next chapter, in its own segment, the narrator confesses to the reader directly. Finally an official introduction! You sly dog!
    c. The narrator, by now, has been explained. He mostly stays out of the rest of the story. Lets things go their own way.
    d. The POV now only follows the main characters, limited third-person only...
    e. BUT at some point, narrator finds a way to escape. ... He's not heard from again,.... but certain scenes away from the main characters occur (during the climax. many things happening), and in those scenes, the "omniscient view" returns. =3​


    Based upon the idea presented here:

    1. As a reader, would you find this idea appealing? Would you find it confusing and complex? What would you caution?​

    2. Would this idea stand out, or get tossed aside by agents and publishers? (Is the industry too streamlined to conventional formats of POV to give it a go?)

    3. What could I do to make the prologue stand out without it being pretentious, needless, or uninteresting? ...
    The goal of the prologue is to present the "following events" as a "story in parts". Something that immerses readers into the setting (its fantasy fiction), sets the tone of the book (and a dash of salesmanship), presents the "narrator", provides the first mystery (who is this person?), etc.​

    4. For those who are aware, I'm going to reference Needful Things again. ... How would you compare my idea to an already written work which has a narrator who presents the story (if not only at first)? ... Is it a good format? Bad format? Something worthy of exploring?​

    (Also cite, fourth-wall breaking narrators: Aladdin (disney movie), Robin Hood (disney movie, the one where animals play the characters), Series of Unfortunate Events, etc)
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    Of course it could work. Of course it could fail. Spectacularly in either direction. Or land splat in the muddy middle.

    The question isn't whether it can be done, the question is can you pull it off. There's no way to know until you try. And there's no way for us to tell you how to tell your story to make it work, at least without a ridiculous amount of detail. Then, whose story would it be? Write it, let it age a few months, then read it... see if you think it works. If you still think it works, let non-relatives read it, and see if they think it works, heh heh.
    Night Gardener and FifthView like this.
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    My initial impulse was to suggest not doing it. There's a certain level of trust inherent in presenting a third-person limited POV; the reader wants to believe, and will believe—until it's broken—that the POV is authentic, representing the character's view, thoughts, feelings truly. Additionally, readers feel a closeness to that character while in the POV and may come to enjoy that feeling, becoming irritated when the narrative suddenly pulls back into an omniscient sort of telling.

    However, I do believe there are ways to do it. A couple interesting examples: Harry Potter and Dune.

    Rowling started book one with an omniscient chapter before focusing in on Harry's POV thereafter. In the past, I have used the idea of "ventriloquizing" to describe some of what she put in that first chapter when she was introducing the Dursleys. Essentially, you can have a storytelling narrator who uses the voices of various characters while writing about them (i.e., not using a limited POV.) This can create closeness to the subject matter.

    Herbert in Dune wrote in omniscient, but there are passages in which he's focused on a single character, and he draws very close to that character to the point of limiting the narration, for the short duration, to a sort of single POV while he's in that character's head. He does skip around to other characters within a scene, but he draws very close to each when he does.

    These are a couple of "tricks" that could be used. In either case, rather than thinking of "3rd limited POV" vs "omniscient third POV," a consideration of closeness vs distance might be helpful.

    Either of these two examples could show a path forward if you decide to have the narrator occasionally pop in with a more distant (from events, in time) observation within the limited POV sections. But there are other ways you might make the transitions smooth.

    For instance, I think this means you'll have clear delineations between the 3rd limited sections and the narrator's omniscient sections? My first impulse when reading that was to imagine the omniscient sections being short, infrequent and in italics. They would be like short interludes breaking off (and becoming more distant from) the limited POV chapters. This sort of thing has been done before as letters or (fictional) book excerpts as short chapters within the novel.

    Alternatively, these could be a brief movement to "present time" if you are using the omniscient narrator's bits as a framing device. We move from present to past, stay in past for a long time in the limited POV sections, then pop into the present from time to time.

    If the narrator is present at events during the omniscient bits, this might come off as more of a switch to first person narration. This, too, is something that has been done before. Even if the narrator isn't describing events they experienced themselves, the closeness of the narration, and/or the narrator's voice, might still give those sections a feeling of closeness to events similar to a first person POV. Switching from third limited to first person sections is something others have done, although I don't have an example handy.

    On the whole, I agree with Demesnedenoir. Any of these approaches can work. The question is whether you can pull it off. If unsure, I'd say what he said. Just write it and see how things go.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2018
    Demesnedenoir likes this.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Robin Hobb does something like that in her Farseer trilogy. There's a section at the beginning of each chapter done in italics. I think it's the main character much later in life, talking about wider events, history, that sort of thing. I'm not really sure because I starting ignoring them by about Chapter Three.

    Hey authors: you're telling me a story. Get on with it. I know you have tons of background and context and I'm sure all that's terribly fascinating. Put it in an Appendix. Put it in a wiki. Make your own Silmarillion. Fans can seek it out. And those who just want to hear a story can ... get on with it.

    This of course is my own reaction. The millions of happy fans of Robin Hobb are no doubt shocked (and appalled) by so pedestrian an attitude. But there are at least some of us in another camp. So, write your story and know there will be some who like and some who do not. Such is success in art.
    FifthView, Ban and Demesnedenoir like this.
  5. This has definitely been done and is doable. The Book Thief did something kind of like this.
  6. Firefly

    Firefly Troubadour

    When I was reading the Series of Unfortunate Events, I remember thinking it was building up to something like this (though it wasn't) so maybe try taking a look at that for now it could be done. I think if it were to work, you'd want to make sure that the narrator has a very strong voice that's distinct from the character's they're narrating(which it sounds like you plan on), and plant in hooks to make it clear to the reader that they are their own character existing in the same world.

    I don't know, it may not work even if you do those things but that's how I'd try to handle it.
    Ainur likes this.
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Have you ever read The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin? It's not the same setup, but it has some similarities. It's not apparent for most of the first book that there is a narrator. Then at the end (IIRC) and going forward into the second and third book their voice becomes more apparent and much later on it becomes clear who they are and what their role in the story is.

    I think the idea sounds interesting. It could very easily cross the line into confusing, but that doesn't make it not worth trying. It'll just be one of those things you keep in mind when having any betas or critique partners going over it.

    Is the industry too streamlined to conventional formats of POV to give it a go?

    In general, probably. Unless you've already got a good track record and an audience. But if you look really hard you might find someone who cares more about quality storytelling than marketability. You might need a magnifying glass.
    FifthView likes this.

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