Narrator: And THAT’S How You Tell a Story

Or, Is meta-humor the only place for the omniscient narrator these days?

Being the English lit nerd that I am, I have a certain fond tolerance for the omniscient narrator in books.  I will admit, I prefer the more modern third-person limited point of view; it’s more immersive, and creates the fewest barriers between reader and character–yes, fewer even than the first-person narrator, in my opinion.  (Because with first-person you only receive what the narrator directly thinks, whereas with third you can get passive observations.  For example, a passage of description…odd when first-person narrator describes for two paragraphs, but not so odd when someone does it in third person. At least to me, because I don’t sit around thinking about what I’m seeing.)

As a writer, I have moments where I almost miss that old rhetorical device. Sometimes I would like to be able to make an observation, just for the humor of it, about what is going on in a scene. The one getting me this week is the first meeting of my heroine and the hero, who have a serious case of mistaken identity (that infernal masquerade, again!).  In their initial meeting they are both making a lot of suggestive comments with an innuendo the other fails to recognize.  And in my head I keep punctuating the end of the scene with “Neither realized that at no time in the entire conversation were they talking about the same thing.”

No, I’m not going to put it in.

Yes, it is obvious to the reader, or should be, if I have properly set up my heroine and am properly in the hero’s head (scene is his first pov in the book).

But I still put it there, in my head, because it’s funny.

I think it’s the Arrested Development Effect.  That show uses a narrator, who is, yes, omniscient, to discuss the storyline and comment on what has happened, either to underscore what occurred–such as pointing out the conversation was about two different “she”s entirely–or to recalibrate the scene, such as a disastrous dinner being called “in all one, of their more successful parties.” 

Realizing that AD and Jane Austen have a common narrative style surprised me. I guess what post-modernism did, in the end, was force that style of storytelling to be used for humor rather than as the standard method–but it couldn’t kill the omniscient narrator completely.


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