Eliminating the narrator

As we saw last week, the goal of deep point of view is to eliminate the narrator. Which means there are two primary choices for POV, each of which has some subsets: You can have a narrator, or not.

In a novel with no narrator, the POV character takes on that role.

Traditionally, most novels are narrated by someone outside the story telling the story to the reader. Sometimes this narrator got really personal, with remarks like, You must understand, Dear Reader, that Percival had no idea Mary was about to…

Nowadays, we say that if Percival doesn’t know it, you can’t include it.

There’s a difference between a narrator and a protagonist.

When you’re reading one of those old books that’s written from a narrator viewpoint, the narrator is a persona who exists outside the story and tells you about the stuff happening inside the story. The characters are the people in the story. The narrator is essentially the POV “character,” so if the narrator knows something, it can be revealed, regardless of whether the protagonist knows it.

The moment this all became clear to me was when I was listening to the audiobook version of John Adams by David McCullough. Yes, I know it’s not a novel. Bear with me.

McCullough has done all his research and can tell you exactly how Abigail felt when John was away in France and didn’t return her letters. In this sense, McCullough is acting like those narrators of old.

The problem, of course, is he’s telling you the story. Now McCullough is a vivid writer and this biography is one of the best in the genre. But it’s still telling, which is one thing novelists are taught not to do. He stands between you and Abigail, so everything you know of her is filtered through him.

Mastering deep POV will help you show instead of tell, because you get rid of the narrator. Abigail becomes her own narrator.
This helps the reader feel that they have become the character. They’re inside the character. They’re deep.

Now, even in Deep POV, we do want to vary the emotional intensity. You don’t want the POV character’s senses and emotions dialed up to eleven all the time; you’ll wear out the reader. But there’s no reason to fall back on a generic narrator. The narrative should remain in the POV character’s voice.

Next week, we’ll look at those subsets I mentioned.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a pittance of a commission from Amazon. Regardless, I only recommend books I believe will be of value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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