There are at least as many liberties as there are restrictions attached to the third-person narrator. First, the liberties: The third-person narrator is not bound to one consciousness. It can know — and, in some cases, it can present — the thoughts of several, even many characters. The ability to relate the inner thoughts of other characters is called omniscience. Total omniscience is exemplified in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, a novel in which even the thoughts of Napoleon are available to the reader. Tolstoyan omniscience is not very common today for a number of reasons. One reason is that we've developed the sense that all points of view are subjective, so it's inherently false to employ a narrator who purports to know everything. It's presumptuous. At best, the narrator knows his own world, and only from a perspective necessarily shaped, if not limited, by socioeconomic conditions — class, race, religion. A narrator's subjectivity often reflects the writer's subjectivity. A writer whose subjectivity remains unexamined may create narrators who share his limitations. Great talent and great vision may, to some extent, transcend those conditions, but even great talent and vision are constructed in a particular context, a context whose “truths” may differ from the “truths” of another context. So a writer's stance toward her material is also, consciously or not, an ontological stance. Some writers, recognizing this, have their narrators communicate the sense that it's impossible to know anything with certainty, even one's own self. Would storytelling with data help your organisation?
Other writers give the third-person narrator a limited (selective) omniscience, in which the narrator remains close to the consciousness of one character. This brings up an especially critical element with the third-person narrator: modulation of distance. A third-person narrator closely linked to the consciousness of the protagonist is still distinct from the protagonist and therefore can know more than the protagonist. The third-person narrator knows the outcome of the story, while the protagonist does not. The third-person narrator might know the meaning of the story even if the protagonist doesn't. In order to communicate the distinction between narrator and protagonist, the narrator modulates the distance between herself and the protagonist. That is, the narrator steps back from, or out of proximity with the protagonist's consciousness and offers an insight, a speculation, a piece of information, or a perspective unavailable to the protagonist. Once that is accomplished, the proximity with the protagonist is reestablished. Limited omniscience with effective modulation is demonstrated masterfully in John Cheever's “The Swimmer.” In this story, protagonist Neddy Merrill's life is already in ruins, but Neddy is unaware of that fact. Have you tried storytelling in business to boost customer engagement?
The third-person narrator knows, but although closely linked to Neddy's consciousness, it never lets on. Instead, the narrator follows Neddy through his swim across the county and presents all events through the filter of Neddy's awareness. Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth? Then in the distance he heard the sound of a tennis game. This cheered him, cleared away all his apprehensions and let him regard the overcast sky and the cold air with indifference. Here the third-person narrator is very closely linked to Neddy's consciousness; the narrator is privy to all of Neddy's questioning, remembering (or lack of it), hearing, and regarding. When, however, Cheever needs to pull back and to comment on the nature of Neddy's journey, he does so in language that reinforces the fact that the third-person narrator is distinct from the consciousness with which it is so often closely linked. Had you gone for a Sunday afternoon ride that day you might have seen him, standing on the shoulders of Route 424, waiting for a chance to cross. You might have wondered if he was the victim of foul play, had his car broken down, or was he merely a fool. Since the predominant mode of instruction in MFA programs is the short story, why even bother discussing the novel? I'll attempt to answer that in a moment. First, an explanation for the widespread focus on the short story: It's shorter, and the majority of its concerns are the concerns of the novel as well. Participants can get through a short story in a sitting (Alice Munro and Harold Brodkey short stories perhaps excepted). They can learn structure, scene, summary, voice, dialogue, setting, and any other issue of craft from the short story. And they can try their hand at the short story (maybe several) in a single semester. The novel doesn't lend itself to such utility. Could storytelling for business be of real value to your business?