Sometimes the plot requires communication to partially break down between characters. A misheard or mispronounced word can have great consequences, after all. Often people aren't even aware it happened.

In a third-person limited writing situation, though, it seems difficult to keep your reader unaware without blatantly lying to them about what is actually said. You do not have the sensory advantages of a first person narrative, here.

A similar situation occurs with the confusion of homophones that are written differently, so this question can well cover those as well.

How can I tackle this type of situation, and can I be pointed to examples where this was done well?

1 Answer 1


You're not lying to the audience

A third person limited narrator depicts the world as seen from the eyes of the current viewpoint character. Things that they don't perceive are omitted, and things that they misperceive are depicted as they understood events.

That said, if you don't do a good job of establishing that your narrator is limited, then having the plot hinge on such an event may still throw your readers. A good way to establish the limited nature of your narrator is to show a situation where your viewpoint character is blatantly ignoring or misinterpreting events to establish where your narrator is positioned.

If you don't want to go that far, or merely want to reinforce the effect at the mishearing, here are some more suggestions.

Don't narrate what character A says, narrate what character B hears

Alice spoke, but her words were drowned out by the air rushing around them.
"What was that?" Bob yelled.
"Meet me at the brown house!" he heard.

[several chapters later]

"I said meet me at the Blond Horse [Inn]!"

My writing isn't fantastic, but hopefully you get the idea. If you stage it properly the readers won't even notice the difference, but you have definitively not lied to them, as you are accurately describing what Bob heard, and you never claim that that is what Alice actually said.

Don't depict the specific events where the miscommunication occurs

"I'll see you in two hours."
Bob put down the phone. "Alice wants to meet us at the brown house."

This may or may not work depending on how important the scene is to the story, but if you can get away with depicting the information transfer secondhand, then you can skip over the mishearing entirely.

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