Which POV makes for a more reliable narrator?

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guppie1813

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What type of narrator do you find more reliable for characters going through self-examination and personal growth? First person or close third? It feels like it is a little hard to make my question clear. I guess I am wondering if first person POV is believable if the character is learning things about her self. I don't walk around and say things to myself in clearly constructed sentences like "Now that I see my neighbor with his shirt off I am attracted to him." It's more like I see him with his shirt off and the actual words that go through my head are "Holy S**t" but it would take a third person POV to explain to an audience that I reacted that way because I realized I was attracted to my neighbor.
 

ElaineA

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First, I think you can take the concern of "I don't walk around and say things to myself..." bit off the table. No dialogue, between characters, but especially internal, is executed as 100% realistic. I daresay if I wrote the way things operate in my head, there would not be one complete sentence in the entire story. And an item added to my grocery list would interrupt every third thought.

Second, I'm not quite sure whether you're trying to determine which POV or which tense is best, and also whether you're worried about closeness (meaning really tight to the narrator's thoughts and feelings) or reliability, which is a whole different thing that has to do with whether your narrator is lying. Your example in first person is written in present tense, the question about third person implies past tense.

In the end it's about the goals for any particular story. How best to tell it.

Just to play with your example, if you wrote:

I always thought he was just a guy--nothing special as I watched him walk from his door to the mailbox every afternoon--but seeing him now, shirtless, his skin glowing with sweat and his glorious pecs on full display, all I can think is, holy shit, how did I not know?

That's deep in the narrator's POV in first person present tense, and the implication of attraction is pretty clear without having to be told in so many words.

So, yeah, TLDR: it's more of a "how you craft it" thing. You can accomplish introspection in any POV.
 

stephenf

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Point of view is about how you would like to position your characters in your story . Would you like them to be the central character, telling you the story or to step them back a bit. I'm personally happy with the unreliable narrator , but it is not the case that first person should be less believable than any other point of view . If your not to keen on using internal dialogue . You can always use actual dialogue . How your character reacts with other people.
 

guppie1813

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Ok so it is basically more 'show but don't tell'...I think I can apply that.

Plus I appreciate the reassurance that the conversations in my head (at least those alone) don't make me certifiable :)
 

guppie1813

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I feel like writing actual dialog is one of my weaknesses. Maybe I need to find a friend and have a conversation about my hot neighbor...oh wait...first I have to find a hot neighbor!
 

Roxxsmom

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I'm not sure what you mean by reliable vs unreliable in your post, exactly. A narrative can be very true to a character's perceptions and personality without being factually accurate.

Generally, the closer a narrative is to the viewpoint of a particular character, the less reliable that narrative will be in an overall sense (as in providing the reader with immediate, accurate, and unbiased information about what is "really" happening). The narrative will represent the limitations of that character's knowledge and experience, their biases, and possibly even their deceptions. Not all first (or very deep limited third) narratives lie deliberately, but there will be limitations as there will always be when a story is told by a particular person. The true story emerges, in spite of this, as the reader puts the information presented by the narrative through their own filters and notices any inconsistencies etc.

A more distant limited third can be pretty "reliable," in the sense of not generally incorporating overt lies into the narrative, but it is still limited by what the pov character knows, believes, and thinks about a situation.

Omniscient, external narrators are generally more "reliable" in that they have access to all the information, and generally disclose it truthfully. Though omniscient narrators can still withhold some information and have quirks or biases that come out in the narrative, overt lying isn't generally a thing with third-person omniscient external narratives. Probably the most reliable form of omniscient narrator is the "invisible" type, who doesn't interject their own opinions and simply says what is happening and what characters are thinking while making it fairly clear when character perceptions don't reflect external reality.
 
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guppie1813

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I'm not sure what you mean by reliable vs unreliable in your post, exactly. A narrative can be very true to a character's perceptions and personality without being factually accurate.

Your response is helpful in ways you probably didn't even intend it to be. First I realized that what I am really asking is what type of narrator is more BELIEVABLE for self examination. But it seems as though the answer to that is 'as believable as you want it to be'. I can think of stories that I have read with both types of narrators that proceed to tell the story with incorrect assumptions and skewed world views, and ....duh isn't correcting those things and overcoming those assumptions what drives a character arc.

The other thing I realized is that the way I want to craft my story is with one consistent POV from the MC, so I will have to go back and check to make sure that I am not popping into other character's heads and reading their minds. Again, not knowing what someone else is actually thinking is like...real life!

I posted this question right before the website went down and I am so happy that you guys responded. I was using this POV issue as (one more) excuse to myself that I don't know what I am doing. Guess I have to cross this off my list :)
 

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