Prior knowledge = omniscience?
February 3, 2014 10:43 AM Subscribe
What are the narrative limitations of a third-person limited style? Solve this debate between me and a friend.
posted by Zelos to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To start off, I know the basic definitions of third-person limited (or multiple), third-person objective, and third-person omniscient. For me, the line between limited vs. omniscient start to blur when I get into narration; i.e. the "tell, not show."
Accounts on the internet differ, but omniscient is supposed to be more "distant" and thus can pop in narratives seamlessly into the prose, often about other people or other things the third -person limited can't know. Third-person limited closely follows one person (or a series of people, if it's third-person multiple/alternating) and what that person learns, and the knowledge of the narrative is limited to what that person knows. Omniscient is far more "tell, not show" than limited.
What about narrations that the protagonist does (or could) know about? I'll give you an example. Let's say Sam is a cell-phone repair technician.
Despite the manufacturer's efforts, people still found incredibly novel ways to break their cell phones. The stress-tests include being ran over with cars, for pity's sake. And yet wonders never ceased.
Sam stared down at the mess of silicon and glass on his table. Who would try to take a soldering iron to their phone?
(Two weeks later, the manufacturer announced that they were upgrading their stress-tests to include being ran over with tanks.)
If the part in brackets was included, it would definitely be third-person omniscient because there is no way for Sam to know that information.
However, if the bracketed part was excluded, I would argue that the example is third-person limited. It seems logical that Sam, being a technician, would know about the ways the manufacturer currently stress-tested their phones. So although the example above is "telling" the audience about Sam knowing this information, instead of "showing" us, this is still within the purview of third-person limited because the information about things that Sam learned previously, even if the narration didn't indicate exactly how or when he learned this information.
My friend argues that because the narrative didn't indicate how Sam learned this information, this should be considered third-person omniscient, and that third-person limited has to show or indicate how the protagonist learned anything. She thinks that to be considered third-person limited, the narrative should include Sam reading in a magazine (or whatever) about the manufacturer's practices, perhaps in a different scene. I thought this was incredibly limiting re: telling about past events not directly included in the narrative.
What do you say, hive mind?