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Here are a few examples of the narrator knowing more than he should.

(A) In a humourous short story about Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, Bertie is talking about a situation involving two strangers and Jeeves suggests referring to them as A & B. When another stranger enters that situation, Jeeves suggests "We will call him C, sir" and Bertie says, "Caesar is a good name".

It is a pun, "C, sir" sounding like "Caesar", but how could Bertie write "C, sir" correctly and still use "Caesar"?

It is lazy writing because, it is easy to rectify, with Jeeves later saying something like "not Caesar, sir, but rather the letter C". With that minor alteration, everything makes sense.

[[ This is an example of a minor issue which has no impact on the rest of the story ]]

(B) In a detective story, a criminal who is a habitual liar talks about a crime involving "Doyle" and the narrator uses this name throughout the novel but gets no matching record.

He assumes the criminal is lying until he checks with alternate spellings like "Doyel" & "Doile" and gets the matching records.

Here the narrator does not write more than he knows, because he uses the wrong name until the end.

[[ This is an example of good writing and the story is consistent and logical ]]

(C) In too many movies, we see cases like the narrator explaining how something happened, but the flashback scenes include scenes where the narrator is not around or cannot know. E.g., "Hearing a noise, I woke up at 3 AM and was knocked unconscious before I saw anything and the three thieves took all my money and documents. One guy was thin and had a rough voice, another was clumsy and silent, the third was foolish and fat."

We, the audience, see all this and confirm what the narrator says. But how could the narrator describe the thieves if he had been knocked out before he saw anything?

(C1) In "better" stories or movies, this fact is used to accuse the narrator of staging the crime. (C2) In lazily written movies, the description is used to catch the thieves. It could be rectified if it was claimed that the narrator gained consciousness after a while and thereby heard and saw the thieves.

[[ C1 is an example of better writing. C2 is an example of lazy or bad or sloppy writing having a major issue which makes the rest of the story inconsistent or illogical ]]

Now, A and C2 are examples of lazy writing. But is it also bad writing or bad storytelling? Or is it irrelevant because intended readers are okay with it?

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    I can't think of many movie examples where C occurs. – JMac May 9 at 14:05
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    @Roger , I am currently rereading "The World of Jeeves" , where 33 stories are narrated by Bertie and only one by Jeeves. In fact, while starting this odd-man-out story, I came across lines like "Many people come to me for advice; 'Resource and Tact' is my motto" and I found it odd that Bertie was saying it, until I realized that Jeeves was saying it ! – Prem May 9 at 14:49
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    @JMac , My intention in asking this question was to know more about "why some novels are better written than others but many bad C type novels are more popular" ; I have already got good feedback (including keywords like third-person limited , third-person omniscient , unreliable narrator , break reverie ) ; I will Post a follow-up question where I will list novels and movies where C occurs. Meanwhile , I want to clarify that C is not exactly the scene (unconscious, but sees and hears the thieves) , rather the concept (narrator knows more than he should) – Prem May 9 at 15:04
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    Given the premise already established by Jeeves, and his awareness of his own (and hence, our) intellectual superiority over Bertie, I don't see a problem with (A). – Strawberry May 9 at 16:59
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    @Roger I just went through nine J&W books on my shelf, and every single one is written in the first person. I'm struggling to remember if any J&W stories are not written in the first person. "First person" means the narrator says "I," as in "Tinkerty-tonk," I said, and I meant it to sting. You might have "first-person shooter" video games, but I can only think of one TV episode and maybe one movie shot in "first person" POV. – Lauren Ipsum May 9 at 19:31
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(A) In a humourous short story about Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, Bertie is talking about a situation involving two strangers and Jeeves suggests referring to them as A & B. When another stranger enters that situation, Jeeves suggests "We will call him C, sir" and Bertie says, "Caesar is a good name".

Bertie can write this because he's relaying a story after the fact. He can understand that he originally thought Jeeves was referring to the Roman leader, but subsequently realized his trusted valet was saying the letter C with the ol' feudal spirit. He's sharing the unintentional pun with the reader.

(B) In a Detective story, a criminal who is a habitual liar talks about a crime involving "Doyle" and the narrator uses this name throughout the novel but gets no matching record. He assumes the criminal is lying, until he checks with alternate spellings like "Doyel" & "Doile" and gets the matching records.

This is fine because the story stays consistent with what the narrator knows. But once the narrator learns the correct name, he should use the correct name.

(C) In too many movies, we see cases like the narrator explains how something happened, but the flashback scenes include scenes where the narrator is not around or cannot know.

This is wrong. As an editor, I would call this out immediately. If the story is first-person or third-person limited, then this is information that the narrator cannot know. The story would have to switch to third-person omniscient.

As an example, the Harry Potter series is set in third-person limited from Harry's POV with the exception of two first chapters, in books 1 and I think 5. Those are third-person omniscient. Rowling did it for effect, and it's fine because it's the first chapter and obviously for effect.

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    Using your example of HP, It is okay to use for effect, but HP should not later use the information in those sections. If we see X stealing Y which HP can not see, then later HP should not claim X was stealing Y, unless it is explained how he knows. – Prem May 9 at 10:35
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    +1; this would be my answer if Lauren didn't write it first. The only thing I would add is that Bertie might well have completely understood "C, sir", but then made the mental connection to "Caesar" and made her comment as an intentional witticism. – Amadeus May 9 at 10:54
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    @Prem I consider (C) bad writing; as Lauren does. It is bad, not precisely because it is illogical, but because it is illogical enough to break the flow of the audience's reverie; taking them out of their suspension of disbelief by forcing them to realize "that can't happen." A story can have minor unlikelihoods or plot conveniences that won't break reverie. e.g. the guy trying to escape jumps into a car that won't start, or accidentally slips and loses his gun down the storm drain. Or misses a key clue due to distraction by a fly. In general these should NOT be used to AID the character. – Amadeus May 9 at 11:32
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    I would say the (C) could be good writing depending on the context... in a detective story or legal drama, it provides inconsistency in the victim's tale, which could mean the story doesn't add up until the detective realizes the problem. In Edgar Allen Poe's "The Cask of Amantillado", the narrator (first person) opens the story by addressing the reader, telling them that we both know he is trustworthy and that he is seeking revenge against the victim... but we don't know that... we just met the guy, so we know nothing of his character and thus, shouldn't take his excuse for his crime as true – hszmv May 9 at 14:58
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    This is fine because the story stays consistent with what the narrator knows. But once the narrator learns the correct name, he should use the correct name. Exactly. The Detective thinks it's spelled Doyle, and so that's how he spells it. – RonJohn May 9 at 17:51
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A main reason to choose a first person narrator in the first place is to limit the scope of the narrator (and to get deeply into that one character's head).

So, no, the narrator should not be privy to information that the character does not know.

With two exceptions:

1. If it's information the character learned later on, the narration can include it.

After all, the character is telling her/his story. When you and I tell our stories in real life, we don't always note when we found out information.

When I got back from the post office, my front door was open and the place looked like a small child had a very big tantrum. Burglars. They found the money and fake IDs and stole my cookie jar for good measure.

You can write this even if it took a few minutes to figure out the money/IDs were gone and a week to notice the cookie jar.

2. If it's an unreliable narrator.

Some people fill in the blanks when they tell stories. In a book it's sometimes easy to spot when the first person narrator offers explanations of what another character is thinking. In some cases, the narrator might be right. "He was angry at me." But other times it's dead obvious how wrong s/he is. (Elaborate descriptions of how the other character's body language means s/he wants to sleep with the narrator.)

Sometimes it can be easy for the reader to gloss over the fact that the narrator couldn't be sure of that information and be misled. As an author, you can use this to your advantage. It's only bad writing if you don't see how and why this works, if you're not doing it on purpose.

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    I would also add that if a narrator SEES (perceives) things, but can't put the pieces together. Again, it's possibly unreliable narrator, but that seems more like 'worldview.' In Bertie/Jeeves, since Jeeves is smarter, Bertie may relay enough for the READER to get the joke, while he himself didn't get it. It's one of my favorite parts -- very skillfully done, usually. – April May 9 at 15:01

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