When writing a story narrated in the third person, I often find passages in my text where the narrator's opinions seem to conflate with the opinions of the character the narration is following:

Detective Dashing took a long, hard look at the man before him. Despite the welcoming smile, it was obvious that this man was up to no good.


The concert was making Josef sick. The band was obnoxiously loud, the music resembled noises of a dying dishwasher, and the stage was lit brighter than a thousand suns.

My gut feeling is that this is bad style - it might've been obvious to Detective Dashing, but if the villain bothered to keep up the appearances it certainly wasn't universally obvious. Josef might've hated the concert, but the rest of the audience was probably having fun.

But is it really not acceptable in supposedly objective narration, or is it implied that if the narration is following a particular character, then the opinions and more subjective phrases are associated with that character's point of view? And if I decide I do want to keep the narration more objective, what alternatives do I have?


3 Answers 3


An omniscient narrator does not need to be objective, but ...

that elevates your narrator to be one of your characters, who by virtue of their prominent position serve as the anchor about which your story revolves.

Since the narrative text is typically about 33% to 50% of every scene, a wise cracking opinionated non-POV character exercises a great deal of sway over your story which can easily overwhelm the presence of your main POV characters whom you want the readers to root for or against, to sympathize with and generally invest in.

My opinion is that it takes a very skilled story teller to keep the balance so the narrator doesn't dominate the story but adds nuance and suspense that makes the POV character's experience more intense and engaging.

When I think of an example of an omniscient and opinionated narrator, I think "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe" by Douglas Adam. The narrator is unnamed and hilarious and engaging, but doesn't take away from my interest in Arthur Dent, the story's protagonist.

Generally, omniscient narrators like those used in "Dune" and "Lord of The Rings" are neutral. The narrator in "The Hobbit" starts a little whimsical, but turns neutral as the stakes of the story rise. I suspect there is something important behind Tolkien's decision to affect that shift in tone in that story, but I'm not clever enough, yet, to figure it out.


Omniscient or deep POV?

I think your samples can be interpreted in different ways. I write like this when I want to convey thoughts or opinions of the POV character, rather than the narrator.

The first sample (as well as the second) could be rewritten as:

Detective Dashing took a long, hard look at the man before him. Despite the welcoming smile, he thought, it was obvious that this man was up to no good.

I don't suggest you add that "he thought" because your current samples are better. A "he thought" will add distance to the POV character, reminding us we're reading a story about a character instead of having a more intimate relation to a character that is thinking and feeling.

For deep POV (something a lot of successful authors do nowadays) I think a rule is to use as few "he" or "she" or the name of the character as possible in order to keep the reader "inside" the character instead of looking at the character from the outside. The drawback is that you might have to limit yourself to one POV character per chapter in order to avoid confusion (also something many successful authors do).

If you want to do an even deeper POV you could remove even more references to the POV character:

Mr. X's face had stubble, maybe a few days old, but the expensive coat and the silk scarf indicated it was more of a fashion statement than any sign of lacking character. He smiled, tried to look welcoming, but it was a facade and his gaze felt like it was searching for cracks that could be pried open to gain advantages.

I.e. both showing the "hard look" and the "being up to no good" and doing it from "inside" detective Dashing.

Worth noting when writing like this is that it's the use of the POV character's name and pronoun that you should try to limit, which usually means you name other characters by name and use their pronouns instead.

Objective narration

But, with respect to your objective narrator, I find myself getting annoyed by authors that display very politically loaded opinions using narration.

For instance, I pretty much quit Tom Clancy after a passage in one of his books about Chinese infanticide. I'd been totally ok if it had been written as an opinion of one of the characters, but it was written with the voice of the narrator (i.e. Tom Clancy, the author) and it was highly racist.

Why would I want to give money to a racist? Yes, maybe it was a narration experiment gone horribly wrong. Maybe Tom Clancy isn't a racist at all... I don't know him, so I can only judge from his writing... I.e. if you're not a racist, don't do racist narration... If you need racism in your story, use a character, and hopefully, no one will think you're a racist...

As I come to think of it, you basically have two options here. Either use an objective narrator and steer clear of things your reader might dislike you for, or use a strong-voiced subjective narrator the reader can easily identify as another character in the story.


What you're doing is entirely correct. You are taking a view on your character and making them the narrator. Just about every book does this to some degree.

In fact, the narrator could even be a character outside the story telling it through flashback or adding flourishes for comedic commentary. These often distinguish themselves through lines like "He didn't know it at the time, but...".

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