My literary pet peeve - confusing first and third person narrative

Literary Blog HopWhen asked what my literary pet peeve is I actually found it hard to think of something that bothers me all the time.

Everyone has literary pet peeves, but I think that mine are more book or author specific than general pet peeves.

I admit to enjoying books where the author tells the story using by describing people and events, rather than through lots of dialogue. Authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are perfect examples of this (and they both write in Spanish - I wonder if that is the reason?). Still, I couldn't say that the use of lots of dialogue is a pet peeve.

So, I am going to go with something that really annoyed in a book that I read recently - where authors confuse first and third person narrative.

Firstly - what is the difference?

A first person narrative is written from the perspective of the character. Usually, this character is the protagonist, and it is through their eyes that we see the story unfold. They use the terms "I" and "we". This gives usually gives the reader a deeper insight into the inner working of that character. You see what they think and feel from their own perspective by the way in which they speak and think and behave.

A third person narrative on the other hand is written from an outside perspective. The words "he", "she" and "they" are used. The narrator is outside of the story, describing the story unfold. It may be that the narrator provides an insight into the characters feeling and behaviours, but it from an outsiders point of view. It is through description and explanation you gain a sense of the character, rather than through the character's own eyes.

I am not a writer, and I am happy to be corrected if it is required, but it strikes me that if as an author you decide to write in the third person, then you write consistently with this.

I think that the best way to explain this is perhaps by way of example. Recently I read an ARC book that I had been provided for free by a publishing house to review (the review is still pending so I won't say a whole lot about it here) and in it the author was extremely guilty of what I am talking about.

Lets call the main character Fred. The author would say things like, "Fred had been on the train for a damn long time."

If the author was writing in the first person I think this might work well, for example, "I had been on the train for such a damn long time that I could barely keep my eyes open." This gives an idea of how Fred speak and thinks.

But by using that phrase in the third person, it feels as though the author is mixing narrative modes. I get this horrible sense of laziness in the phrase. It feels as though the author is trying to tell the reader what Fred is thinking, without actually telling us that is what Fred is thinking.

Surely, "Fred was frustrated, wondering to himself when the damn train would arrive" works a little bit better in the third person - you can still get a sense of who Fred is and how he thinks, without the laziness of the author not actually saying that what's he is thinking.

In using the phrase "Fred had been on the train for a damn long time" the author is almost turning the narrator into a character themself, and in this book the narrator as just that - an objective narrator.

Okay - looking over the above, I fully accept that there is a reason that I am not a writer, and I also acknowledge that I am doing a terrible job of articulating what I mean.

I wish that I had a little more literary talent and could articulate my pet peeve more clearly for you all but I have done the best that I can.

Does anyone understand what I mean by confusing the first and third person narrative? What do you think?

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