Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Third-person Narrator as a Character

Third-person fiction is told by an "implied narrator," according to literary theory. In practice, the implied narrator is usually enough like the author that this bit of theory can be ignored during the writing process. (Or the implied narrator is enough like the writer's usual public mask that there's no practical difference.) But an implied narrator who's not like the writer can be a useful tool.

Example: A story set in the 22nd century might have as implied narrator a 24th-century historical romance writer. To that narrator, the 22nd century would be charmingly old-fashioned; to the actual writer of today, it wouldn't be. This implied narrator would project the moral values of her own time into the century before last; and those wouldn't be nearly the same as the writer's values. (Well, not if the writer is any good at building futures.)

In theory, "historical fiction" set in our time whose implied narrator and implied reader are in the future could tell a lot about that future without explicitly saying anything about it. The clues would be 1) what this fictional author has to explain to readers and 2) what she gets wrong.
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