My new narrator — I haven’t met him yet

I’ve mentioned here a few times that I will rewrite my current work in progress, The Sleep of Reason, with a third-person narrator. It will make for a much better story, but I don’t know who that narrator is going to be yet.

I’ve also mentioned here a few times (most notably here) that a careful writer must treat the narrator as another character of the story. A narrator should have as much existence (to the writer at least) as any other character in the story. This is the person who tells the tale; it must be a person. Even if this character makes no overt appearance in the story, having a specific person in mind to tell the tale means that the voice of the story will remain consistent, which is the kind of thing a careful writer must think about.

But beyond that, the narrator can do extra work. In many of Saramago’s novels, the narrator provides commentary and judgment on the characters and events. In Iris Murdoch novels, the narrator is often the voice of god. A third-person narrator might contribute to maintaining the tone of the novel. A narrator might provide humor. Or dread. Or sorrow. Or joy.

I’m struggling with just what role my new narrator will have and how that can contribute to the tale. I’ve considered making him (and I assume it’s a him right now) one of the members of the story, though relating the tale long after the fact. He might even be the antagonist character as I now conceive the story. Or he might merely be a wise gentleman sharing a story with friends at their club. Will he relate the facts with a foreknowledge of the end, tossing in hints of this along the way? That would help with the tone I want to maintain. Or will he withhold this kind of information so that the reader must earn it? I’ve thought about having him make cutting observations about what a fool the protagonist is, as a way to create sympathy for the protagonist, but I fear I could overdo that or that I shouldn’t give that much away. Will my narrator have sympathy or contempt for the protagonist? Will he see the protagonist as a victim or a fool?

In any case, my narrator will have to be omniscient, at least to the point of knowing and relating the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. This is, of course, commonplace in fiction, but if I also make him a member of the story, it will require something like a supernatural quality, which while not a part of the plot, certainly is in keeping with the theme.

I need to give this a lot more thought before I embark on the rewrite, and anyway, there are still two more chapters to write, including one scene that finally explains the title I’ve given the novel.

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2 Comments on “My new narrator — I haven’t met him yet”


  1. I’d recommend not pursuing the “wise gentleman sharing a story with friends at their club” angle. That’s effectively what Conrad with Heart of Darkness, and I was so put off by the phoniness of the author’s conceit that I never able to fully get into the story.

  2. paullamb Says:

    That narrator was Marlowe, wasn’t it? He had the same role for Lord Jim, I think. And maybe a couple of other Conrad works. But he was also a specifically named character. My idea is to find a voice I’ll be consistent with, and if I can picture a fellow at a club telling the story for the whole novel — even if he doesn’t say “I” once, I think I’ll be in better control and be able to maintain a tone.


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