Understanding Characters in Objectively Narrated Stories

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Understanding Characters in Objectively Narrated Stories

Characterization is the way writers develop characters and reveal those characters' traits to readers. (Kirszner 121) Most times in a story we learn about the characters, through their own thoughts or through the narrative of a third person. In fact, most stories written are told through a first or third person narrative. What about the less popular point of view, the objective narrative? In the objective narrative there is no storyteller to clue the reader in about that aching old bullet wound. There's not a mechanism to share the premonitions of doom felt in back of an army captain's mind. Objective narration does not provide emotions, thoughts or motivations aside from the words or actions of the characters. While it may be argued that other points of view may "fill out" a story, objective narratives draw in a reader. One cannot read an objective narrative without having to think, conclude and fill in the blanks as to things like history, relationships and motivations. Characters in objective narration stories can only be understood through the personal interpretation of the reader. In this sense, an objective point of view is more interactive than other forms of narration.

Objective narration is defined as "(A) point of view (which) allows writers to remove the narrator from the story and present events in a distant, emotionless way.'' (Kirszner 231) While it may be a limiting style, the objective narration is unique in its ability to remove emotion, a tool that can be well used. Authors can set tone with objective narration, as well as lead a reader to a desired conclusion. Ernest Hemingway's A Clean, Well-Lighted Place is an example of objective narration.

They sat together at a table that was close against the wall near the door of the café and looked at the terrace where the tables were all empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind. A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him. "The guard will pick him up," one waiter said.

"What does it matter, if he gets what he's after?"
"He had better get off the street now. The guard will get him. They went by five minutes ago."

In this passage we can identify two characteristics that show us an objective point of view. First of all, the descriptions lack any omniscience. We are told exactly what is there, what it looks like, what is happening as if we were watching the scene. A story in limited omniscient point of view might read:

"A girl and a soldier went by in the street, holding desperately to one another, as if their embrace could stop his departure the next morning."

Including the motivations/emotions and foreknowledge are not parts of objective narration. The lack of omniscience extends to the dialogue as well. The exchange between the waiters has no motivations or thoughts. For example in first person omniscient narration, the exchange could go something like this:

"The guard will pick him up," I said. They were always hauling those boys out of the café and leaving me to clean up the overturned tables. I wouldn't care, but they never pay the bill.

"What does it matter, if he gets what he wants?" I swear that boy thinks with nothing above his beltline. Married over a year, and still talks like a schoolboy bragging in the yard.

Objective point of view is truly "just the facts, ma'am." We are aware only of what our five sense would tell us if we were there watching the events. Using this form solely makes for a very dry reading, without the needed depth to carry a larger piece of literature. Oftentimes authors who use objective narrative will switch to other forms of narration as well. This allows the author to keep a general point of view and tone, while accessing other information and...
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