I gasped. Tom swallowed. He was also surprised by the maid's sudden appearance.

In this case the narrator is directly talking about Tom's feelings.

I gasped. Tom swallowed. He also seemed surprised by the maid's sudden appearance.

This one is more indirect; the narrator is just assuming what the other character feels.

Which one is better for fiction? Is the first case common?

3 Answers 3


First person narrators can't know what's going on inside someone else.

But they can think they know. And can narrate as if they know.

That's a key advantage of first person narrators. They can be unreliable.

Mindreading. I like your first example better... with some caveats. The narrator presumes to know what is going on inside Tom. That kind of "mind-reading" fantasy is common in us humans. And it's a potentially interesting character flaw. If you want us to think the character is flawed in that way, this is fine way to illustrate the flaw.

Summarizing. The second narrator uses the word "seemed." This makes me think the narrator is observing something. But the narrator isn't telling us the observations, the sensory details that lead to "seemed." Instead, the narrator summarizes the details, so that we can't share them.

This kind of summarizing is a potentially interesting character trait. That is, perhaps the narrator isn't aware of the sensory details, but instead leaps to a guess about the feelings. Being aware of guessing is a good thing.

But it will make it hard for the narrator to tell the story well. If the narrator can't give us readers the sensory details, it will be harder for us to share in the experience. That's a problem for you.

Sensory details. If you don't mean to illustrate those character flaws (mindreading, summarizing, or other form of unreliability), it's probably better to have the narrator give us the sensory details. What did the narrator see or hear that led to those guesses about the other person's feelings?

Once the narrator tells us the sensory details, the narrator might then conclude something about the other person's feelings. We readers, having seen both the details and the conclusion, can then judge for ourselves whether the narrator's conclusions seem reasonable.

Or the narrator might tell us the sensory details and let us form conclusions about the other person's feelings.


The best strategy would be to let the reader come to the conclusion:

Tom swallowed at the maid's sudden appearance.


If the POV character knows the other character really well then they may be so connected that they can basically read each others' minds. You could probably have the POV character directly state their friend's feelings and get away with it just fine.

As for those who aren't close, I'd have to agree with Dale Hartley Emery on that one. :)

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