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We ordered pork belly, beef liver, and lamb slices—a selection that made our tongues melt and our stomachs heat up.

Rattled by a sound or shake that only Sumire had detected, she picked up her phone.

Are these POV violations (first-person limited)?

If so, how to modify them so there isn't a violation anymore?

4 Answers 4

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We ordered pork belly, beef liver, and lamb slices—a selection that made our tongues melt and our stomachs heat up.

We ordered pork belly, beef liver and lamb slices -- a selection we knew would make our tongues melt and our stomachs heat up.

Rattled by a sound or shake that only Sumire had detected, she picked up her phone.

Sumire suddenly appeared rattled, and reached for her phone. "Did you guys feel that?"

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    The first one is still iffy. "we knew" still implies mind reading.
    – Weckar E.
    Aug 3, 2017 at 14:43
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    @WeckarE. Under the assumption that reality does not allow mind-reading, "we knew would" actually implies past experience and past agreement on how it felt: That is the most probable reason for saying we know how something will turn out. Thus it remains a first-person claim. Even if this is a first time, at worst it implies an earlier conversation that everybody agreed upon as to the effects of this particular meal. Unless the OP has introduced supernatural elements into this story, knowing how somebody will feel or react is a result of past experience with that person.
    – Amadeus
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:31
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    E.g. reading facial cues, subtle variations to intonation or rhythm of speech, or unexpected behaviors. Oct 9, 2017 at 4:13
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First person limited is not a rule and therefore cannot be violated. It is an analytical category that can be used after the fact to describe what an author has done. The author's responsibility it to tell a compelling story, not to confine that story within an analytical category. If the story is good and the analytical categories do not fit, that it the fault of the analytical system, not the story.

There are all kinds of analytical systems that can be applied to stories. They may or may not be useful in helping you figure out what it wrong with a story that is not working, but you can also find plenty of examples of stories that work just fine that do not fit these categories. But trying to write to these categories is a recipe for a strangled stilted story.

Remember that even if your narrator is a character, they are still a narrator. Nothing binds them to narrate only what their character knows and sees in the moment they are relating it. As a narrator, they are free to know and to express anything that they might have learned later, to interpret how others are feeling or what they are experiencing, to project, to assume, or just plain make stuff up. All of which people do when telling stories about their experiences in the real world.

Now, if you choose to tell a story that is pure stream of consciousness of a single character, that is up to you, but there is no literary requirement to do so. And even our stream of consciousness is not a stream of raw experience but a stream of interpretation, imagination, conjecture, and reflection. We do not merely experience the world, we interpret it, and this includes interpreting what other people are experiencing (a facility without which social life would be impossible).

Making the narrator a character is simply a narrative conceit. The author knows everything and is entitled to tell anything and everything they know by any means they desire, as long as they can make the reader accept it. And the reader will accept almost anything as long as the style of telling stays consistent and there is no obvious laziness or cheating on the author's part.

If the book sells and the analytical categories do not fit, that just demonstrates the limits of that analytical categories.

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In both examples the POV character seems to have information they should not. They don't know how others experienced the food order, nor do they know what - if anything - Sumire is reacting to when she picks up her phone.

Instead, focus on the perception of this experience, or emphasize that these are things the POV character thinks or is assuming about the goings-on.

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The Animorphs fanchise used this exclusively through all 54 main title books (told the main story through a fixed rotation of one core cast per book), five "Megamorphs" books (told from a rotating POV of the core cast in a single book) and 5 Chronicles books (told from the POV of one or more non-cast members and almost all exclusively expanding on the background of the main title books).

In books where the POV would shift between characters, a single POV was used during one chapter and each chapter opened noting who the current POV was. The main titles were almost always a single exclusive POV but there were points where the nature of the story was such that a second POV required. The one I best recall was book 19 (The narrator does warn about this in the first chapter that it couldn't be told faithfully entirely by her and that she'd let us know when another character has to fill us in on the gaps, which is why I remember it happening in that one instance. It's appearance was early enough in the series that only a few readers would likely know this was a common style outside of the main title.).

It was also strongly hinted that the books were the narrator's recollection of past events and not recent occurrences that the narrator was writing down the day of (some events may call into question how this recollection was collected, but best not to think too hard on it). Aside from the above mentioned explination of the POV switch, the first Chronicle Book (which has a single narrator) is explicitly said to be a ritual part of death in his culture and is functionally similar to a deathbed confessional to frame the rest of the story. The events surrounding his death were previously depicted in the first main title book.

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