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Background:

I'm writing a fan fiction story to a Harry Poter-like novel about a group of 3 close friends. The novel has the simple third person limited narrator, with POV generally following the friends, if they are together, or one of them, when they separate.

Description:

Now, in my story I want to make a trick: it is narrated in a way that resembles the usual third person, but actually it is a character — the quiet girl attending the same class — which tells the story. This is, the text is about what she hears, sees and thinks, but not about her.

For example, it starts along the lines of:

The bus was full of people, only at the joint there was some free space remaining. The Main Characters were standing on one of its sides, Two Other Classmates were sitting a few seats further into the back.

The bus slowly entered the road. It was almost completely dark outside.

"A night at school, huh?" said One MC.

The Second MC slowly raised her head.

"It's not even ours" she said.

In reality it is the girl getting into the bus, finding a free space for her to stand, seeing The Main Characters, then seeing two other classmates. Later she hears their conversation.

Throughout the story she doesn't refer to herself at all, probably doesn't even speak. I.e. she doesn't say she walks from one place to another, she may only describe the other place. In the plot I make her generally follow, as well as pay closer attention to MCs, which is justified by that she simply tries to stick with her class (and also that she has a crush on one of them). This role should fit her, as a very shy, staying in the background kind of girl who would rarely say a word.

There will be subtle moments when the reader may ask "Why has this conversation been discontinued?" (because the interlocutors have left the room and she could not longer hear them), "Why are only those details mentioned?", "Why the MCs aren't featured all the time?", putting them in the, possibly unconscious state of "Something is not about right, but OK". But then everything falls back to normal. Only towards the end the true nature of the narrator will be probably somewhat evident, the exact person should be then easy to guess.

It should be even possible to make situations which change their meaning when read for the second time (when knowing who the narrator is), for example an indirect insult to her thrown in the air by someone in her surroundings.

Question:

Do you know of someone doing something like this before? I haven't, maybe it's simply to hard to pull off?

From what I have tried it indeed seems hard, but possible, to write a narration in such a way — one that would suit both a real narrator and a particular character — it can't refer to peoples' thoughts, it mustn't be too smart or in-depth, it should perceive things as the girl would, it must tell the story, including the girl's own, without using 'I' or 'we'.

Do you think it is feasible? What would you suggest?

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  • Does the narrator-character actively participate in the story later on or play some passive role for the main characters? If not, why have her in the story at all? If the narrator-character later becomes active (to the surprise of the readers), I think it might work well. If she never refers to herself and her own experiences at all, the reader might wonder why that is so. After all, we usually aren't completely focussed on other persons and have motivations and experiences of our own. To explain such a lack of self-reference, ... [continued]
    – user55858
    May 30, 2023 at 6:22
  • [contd.] ..., you could end with the narrator-character revealing herself to be narrating the events to the reader in the same way that we tell others of something we witnessed but weren't part of, e.g.: "That is my account of what I saw."
    – user55858
    May 30, 2023 at 6:24

2 Answers 2

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Do you know of someone doing something like this before?

This is, in fact, common enough to be an entire trope: Narrator All Along. (Obligatory warning: TV Tropes can be a massive time sink!) A famous example is Roald Dahl's The BFG, where the book turns out to have been written by the BFG himself.

Do you think it is feasible? What would you suggest?

I'm not sure I can offer any specific advice about how to pull it off. As you yourself have said, it's very much possible, and you seem to already have a pretty good idea of what to do and what not to do (not mentioning details the narrator wouldn't know, not using "I" or "we" until the reveal happens, etc). So... go for it!

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Related is a style that was popular in the 19th century where the narrator is telling a story they were a part of after the fact as if writing a letter to you about the events. Typically, while they were a witness to the events, they were not an active participant, though this was not always the case. Frankenstein was told by the titular doctor to a third party (the reader) after the events resulting in his re-animation of a corpse and the resulting monster. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide" is told from the point of view of a lawyer friend of the doctor after the events of the story. Edgar Allen Poe often used this in his short stories, with the added twist that the narrator is the villain of the work (The Telltale Heart is the murder describing the descent into madness he felt after killing a man on a whim. The Cask of Amontillado is told as a confession by the narrator after he buried a man alive as a revenge for an unknown slight that the victim committed against the narrator.

The Japanese film Rashomon is told from the point of view of a pair of witnesses to a court proceeding in which three conflicting stories are given by the three people as to which one of them murdered the Samurai. (Our focal point characters witnessed the lead up and the aftermath of the murder, but not the circumstances as to who killed the Samurai. Thus our POV characters are able to verify that the three witnesses were all at the crime scene at the same time... but not whodunnit). The three participants all tell contradictory stories, all of which turn out to be confessions that the participant is the sole party responsible for the murder (which many parody or homage series fail to get correct. In those, the characters tell contradictory interpretations of what happened to implicate another character and exonerate themselves.)

Sherlock Holmes is told from the point of view of Watson, the detective's partner who is amazed at Holmes' skills (modern adaptations tend to actually play up Watson's role in the story... it's not that he is incompetent... he actually is... Holmes is just better.). The use in the series has led literary critics to develop the terms Doylist and Watsonian (the terms refer to using explanations for plot choices and whether the critique uses information that the creator used as part of his/her creative process vs. information that is internal to the story only).

Edit: Additional Answers

Related is a style that was popular in the 19th century where the narrator is telling a story they were a part of after the fact as if writing a letter to you about the events. Typically, while they were a witness to the events, they were not an active participant, though this was not always the case. Frankenstein was told by the titular doctor to a third party (the reader) after the events resulting in his re-animation of a corpse and the resulting monster. "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide" is told from the point of view of a lawyer friend of the doctor after the events of the story. Edgar Allen Poe often used this in his short stories, with the added twist that the narrator is the villain of the work (The Telltale Heart is the murder describing the descent into madness he felt after killing a man on a whim. The Cask of Amontillado is told as a confession by the narrator after he buried a man alive as a revenge for an unknown slight that the victim committed against the narrator.

The Japanese film is told from the point of view of a pair of witnesses to a court proceeding in which three conflicting stories are given by the three people as to which one of them murdered the Samurai. (our focal point characters witnessed the lead up and the aftermath of the murder, but not the circumstances as to who killed the Samurai. Thus our pov characters are able to verify that the three witnesses were all at the crime scene at the same time... but not who dun it). The three participants all tell contradictory stories, all of which turn out to be confessions that the participant is the sole party responsible for the murder (which many parody or homage series fail to get correct. In those, the characters tell contradictory interpretations of what happened to implicate another character and exonerate themselves.

Sherlock Holmes is told from the point of view of Watson, the detective's partner who is amazed at Holmes skills (Modern adaptations tend to actually play up Watson's role in the story... it's not that he is incompetent... he actually is... Holmes is just better.). The use in the series has often lead to literary critics to develop the terms Doylist and Watsonian (The terms refers to using explaination for plot choices and whether the critique uses information that the creator used as part of his/her creative process vs. information that is internal to the story only.).

Edit: This title comes up a lot in Television shows and films. For example, for example, in the Muppet's Christmas Carol, Gonzo is cast as "Charles Dickens" who never was a character in the source material. Most of Gonzo's dialog is lifted straight from the narration of the book, resulting on what many fans of Dickens believe is the best film adaptation of the book (since the book has some amazing narration that previous adaptations ignored.). In the Doctor Who Christmas special, "The End of Time," the first half of the special includes a narrator (to make the episodes feel more like a classic Christmas special) telling the story of the Doctor's adventure... the first part ends on a cliffhanger that the narrator is not just a character who exists in this story, but is the true bad guy of the story and has been behind all the other characters actions.

Other shows, especially comedy, use a narrator as a character that the heroes and villains can interact with. For example, the English dub of Samurai Pizza Cats has a narrator who the trio of titular heroes (and anyone else for that matter) engage with, often getting into frequent verbal arguments with over the direction. In the Disney Channel Cartoon "Dave the Barbarian" the on screen characters are able to interact with the narrator, who occasionally will also get upset that the heroes present happenings fail to live up to the dramatic narration the narrator chose to open the episode with. In the series finale, the heros' greatest foe, the Dark Lord Chuckles the Silly Piggy (in case you didn't realize this was a comedy spoof) realizes that all his plots weren't foiled by Dave and his family, but rather the narrator always narrating that Dave and his family foil Chuckle's plans... so he kidnaps and hypnotizes the Narrator and has him narrate the story where Chuckle's always wins. This works until the narrator loses his voice (causing the plot to literally stop) and the show has to get the Narrator's understudy to come in... who isn't hypnotized, but hasn't a clue what the show is about beyond the title... so Dave and his family win, but all the characters are turned from characters from a medievel fantasy setting to a space opera setting confusing everyone in the process.

In the Animated Film Hercules, we get a narrator (named Bob in the Animated Series) voiced by Charlse Heston giving a dramatic read... until the Muses tell him that this is too much melodrama for the audience and with "Bob's" Permission they take over the narrative of the story, setting up the narration with energetic Gospel Music rather than a solemn academic reading of lines (It's also a pun... the Muses are a Greek Chorus... a type of narrator common in Greek Plays... because they are all Greek Goddesses of the Arts and "Proclaimers of Heroes" like Hercules. Because of this, they are actually in the story proper and interact with characters, albeit only during the song sequences (Most prominently in Meg's song "I won't say I'm in Love" where they provide the backup vocals and try to push Meg to accept that it's okay to love someone again.), however, they have no direct impact on the plot.

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