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I've heard advice that in an alternating third person limited POV, the narration alone should be enough to seat the reader within the POV. I like this concept.

What are some concrete ways in which the narrator can have a unified style throughout a novel, but also be shaded between two points of view for alternating chapters?

For example, one of my POV characters may be more focused on the 'world' and the other may be more focused on people. This could impact the narrator. Yes? No?

Would the personality of the character shade the narrator? Imagine a character is high strung, and another is almost catatonic. Would the narration reflect this?

Could a narrator be more terse in one POV and more expansive in another?

I aim for a unified style and/or voice throughout, but also like the idea that the POV shades narration and am curious how these ideas are balanced.


Edit: I'm using third person limited, and have alternating viewpoints between two protagonists. The genre is SF-F. I plan to query soon.

Up until this point I used essentially the same 'narrator' for both viewpoints, so, for example, if they saw a mountain, it would be described in similar terms. The exception to this is that any similes I added would be anchored in the character's life experience. A desk clerk, for example, would have a narrator in her chapters that said the mountain was pointed like a pencil tip. A lumberjack would have a narrator that said it was pointed like the tooth of a saw. But other than similes, it didn't occur to me to distinguish the narrator between viewpoints.

Color is important to one of my characters. I'm considering removing every mention of color from the alternate character/chapters. This would be a subtle change, I think, to the reader, but the sort of thing I am wondering about.

I'm curious how far this sort of tweaking should go before it would become jarring. But imagine the extreme - Maybe a terse, angry narrator with a dialect in odd chapters and a calm, loving, well educated narrator in even chapters is fine ... or not ...???

  • What does "shade" mean in this context? – user29032 Mar 20 '18 at 9:07
  • @cloudchaser it means to nuance in one direction or another. – DPT Mar 20 '18 at 13:38
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The uniform style depends on the type of narrative voice you choose to use.

An omniscient third person narrative voice is the implied authorial voice that remains constant and unchanging throughout the story. It isn't colored by the character's individuality at all. Terry Pratchett, J.R.R Tolkien, Jk Rowling, HG Wells and Jane Austen are examples of authors who narrated their stories using their individual, authorial voices.

But if you decide to use a Third Person Limited then, much like first person, your narration will embody your character and project their voice onto the page. The reader will be able to recognize which character is narrating the story based on their word choice, sentence structure and syntax. The details noticed by a character will denote who they are, what they value and what they want. Two characters standing side-by-side in a room will notice/describe completely different details. But with omniscient the details, descriptions, sentence structure, word choice and syntax will remain constant, regardless of which character is emoting on the page. Your book's narrative style is controlled by what narrative voice you choose because the language an omniscient author chooses won't be the same language a character would use.

You can, of course, still show individual speech patterns, personality traits and character interests effectively with omniscient using traditional literary tools, but they won't personalize the narrative voice. The character's voice can only be shown through dialogue and occasional monologue. The narration itself can't be used as subtext to allude to the character's moods/feelings because it isn't through their perspective, so the author has to compensate for this using other tools and techniques.

But omniscient will give you that uniform style you seem to be looking for.

  • Do you have any examples of authors (or specific works) that use the second style you describe, of limited third person with different character perspectives? (I understand how to do that for first person, but third is more challenging.) – Monica Cellio Mar 20 '18 at 16:22
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The narrator will have a character, so the idea of a unified approach sounds like the right way to go here. However, the narrator will be following a particular character at a particular time, so will notice the things they notice - and even more so when narrating their thoughts and observations.

Following one character :

The day was bright, the sun throwing shadows of bare trees across the pavement. David spotted someone's pet, the urban predator, advancing slowly through undergrowth towards some unseen prey.

And another :

The day was bright, the sun throwing shadows of bare trees across the pavement. John saw a cat.

In those examples the narrator's character comes out in the first sentence, while the character's character (if you see what I mean) is more prominent in the second. The reader will get to know the character through the narrator's observations of their behaviour and although the narrator will express themselves consistently, the things they choose to tell the reader about each character can help define them.

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