Last night, as I was re-editing FC:III, I came across (what I humbly consider) a good example of a narrative tailored to a limited POV. Here on this blog, and on some of the blogs I follow, we’ve talked a lot about building characters—physical appearance, how they speak, internal attitudes, believable actions and reactions, etc.—but these are all things directly connected to the character. There’s another level, more abstract, that I think bears consideration and discussion.
I’m pretty strict when I use limited omniscient POV. Some writers are more free, allowing the narration to describe a thought or a memory or a past action that is outside of the current POV character’s knowledge, but I don’t. In addition to this, though, I put limits on the narrative. This is most obvious when I’m dealing with characters from diverse backgrounds, as I do in the Fallen Cloud Saga.
The example I came across was in a scene where the ambassador from New Spain is listening to the Cheyenne chief speak. He does not understand the language, but he listens to it, hearing its music and rhythm. Via the narration, the chief’s voice is likened to “a Schubertian andante.” This simile is acceptable (in my opinion), but only from the ambassador’s limited POV. Had the POV been reversed, it would not have been appropriate for this Cheyenne chief to make the same characterization (unless, of course, the chief had been exposed to the music of Schubert).
Naturally, there are baselines and there are limits. I can’t limit the narrative of a 19th c. Cheyenne chief to only what he would know; for one thing, the book is written in English. And, for example, there are words for colors I might use (salmon, coral, aquamarine) of which such a man may/mayn’t have direct experience. To make the chief’s narrative completely consistent would make the book unreadable. And the reverse is true.
In other books, the distinctions may not be so sharp. For instance, I’m reading Frozen Heat (yes, I’m a Richard Castle fan…a guilty pleasure) and in that book, there’s little difference between the characters, so the narrative maintains a single, consistent tone. And when reading one of the classics, where the totally omniscient POV is employed, the narrative must be consistent, since it freely moves from one character to another, and the narrator knows everything that everyone knows.
So, as with All Things Writing, there’s no rule. Just serving suggestions. But it’s worth considering. If you’re writing a period piece, you don’t want your 9th century Breton to think that something is “as loud as a locomotive.”