In the following example, the character is a five-year-old:

Saki stared at her side. Her cousin was right: she had indeed an extra digit on one hand. How come she hadn't notice it before? Maybe it'd been there all along; it's just that she hadn't paid attention to it. But her mother had never said a single word about it. Nor had her father. Was Rika the first one to discover it?

Will it sound more natural if I write it like this (making it sound more like a child her age)?

Saki looked at her side. Her cousin was right: she had one more finger in one hand. How she never noticed it before? Maybe it had been always there; it's just that she hadn't paid attention to it. But her mom and dad had never said anything about it. Was Rika the first one to see it?

Or is it unnecessary in third person narrative?

Extended example:

Saki first became aware of her sixth finger at age five. Her aunt had come to the house that evening, bringing Rika (Saki's favorite cousin) with her. She had come with the intention of discussing an 'upsetting problem' regarding her husband. So Rika's mother sent her daughter to join Saki, who was talking a bath at the moment. Once together the two girls started playing in the tub. They spread foam in the air, and splashed water to each other between laughter and giggles. This was the first time they bathed together, so they were very excited. But then, Rika suddenly stopped, fixing her eyes on her cousin.

"Hey," she said pointing to Saki's hand. "You have a sixth finger."

Saki stared at her side. Her cousin was right: she had an extra finger in one hand. How come she had never noticed it before? Maybe it had always been there. But her parents had never said a word about it, nor her friends. Was Rika the first one to notice?

"You didn't see it before?" Saki asked.

Rika shook her head. "No that I remember."

1 Answer 1


You can only do this if the entire section is narrated this way. If you are doing the entire chapter/scene/section etc. from the five-year-old's perspective, it will work. What you cannot do is have two paragraphs in this style and then, without a scene break, switch back to a normal, adult narrative style.

ETA clarification as requested: When you have two (or more) people speaking, each person has his or her own speech patterns. People should not all sound exactly the same when they speak. So if Saki is in her 20s and Rika is five, if they are talking, Rika should sound like a five-year-old (simple sentences, limited understanding of the world).

In regards to narration, there are different perspectives one can use. "Third-person omniscent" sees into everyone's thoughts, and is not from the perspective of one character, so it should be as straightforward and clear as possible.

"Third-person limited" can be limited in different ways. One of the ways it can be limited is to have third-person narration from the perspective of a single character (at a time). For example, the Harry Potter novels have third-person limited narration. The narration is in the third person, but always focuses on Harry (with the exception of two or three scenes). So we only see what Harry sees.

When you have third-person narration limited to the perspective of one character, and that character is five, you can write the narration to match the perspective of a five-year-old. So the narration, not just the speech, would have simple sentences and limited understanding.

Rika woke up. The sun was shining in her windows. It made pretty yellow squares on her wallpaper. She loved that wallpaper. Her grandma had picked it out for her and her papa had pasted it all up. Rika could smell food cooking. She sniffed. Pancakes! Pancakes were yummy. She had to get downstairs before Saki ate up all her pancakes.


Saki woke up and stretched luxuriously beneath the sheets. She loved waking up slowly on a summer morning, with birdsong filling the grass-scented air and a complete lack of urgency to be anywhere but her bed. The sun peeked through the holes in her curtains, dappling the wallpaper with golden stripes. The wallpaper pattern was outdated, but her grandmother had chosen it, so she loved it for the familiarity. Saki inhaled deeply, and smiled. Her mother was making pancakes, like she usually did on Saturdays.

Both of those beats are fine. What I'm saying is that if you do a scene like the first one, the entire scene has to be written that way, from Rika's perspective. Same with Saki's. You can't jump from one perspective or narrative style to the other in the same scene.

  • Could you go into more detail of how and why the rules for expressing thought (single narrator for entire scene) differ from the rules for expressing speech? I understand the need for clarity in who is the current narrator (using italics to indicate thought might help but does not allow indication of continuation/closing at paragraph breaks as quotation marks do). In the example, "Saki looked[stared] at her side." would probably be from the external narrator while the rest might be Saki's thoughts (italicized?). I do not have a good understanding; clarification might improve your answer.
    – user5232
    Jul 20, 2013 at 13:12
  • @PaulA.Clayton Let me know if my edit addressed your question. Jul 20, 2013 at 15:41
  • @Lauren Ipsum Thanks for the detailed answer. I forgot to mention that the example above is actually a flashback. I'm using third-person limited. The first few sentences focuses on Rika's aunt and the rest focuses on the two girls. Does that work? I think I'm getting a bit confused.
    – wyc
    Jul 20, 2013 at 16:39
  • @Lauren Ipsum Please see my Extended Example.
    – wyc
    Jul 20, 2013 at 16:58
  • @AlexandroChen I'd have to see a larger piece in context, but my first impulse is to stick with my original answer: you can have something set in a 5YO perspective if the entire scene is that way. The extended example is not the entire scene; it's just one beat from her perspective. For me that would be jarring. Jul 21, 2013 at 1:45

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