How omnipotent should a narrator be?

One challenge I’ve created for myself is I’m at a part in my story where my English speaking protagonist is in a place where only one of the other several characters speak English. It’s too clumsy to continually have the same individual telling the protagonist what the other characters are saying to him and to each other. It’s ok if the protagonist doesn’t understand everyone, but I want the reader to know what’s being said.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, but generally that’s the problem. Does it work to have the narrator “translate” what the non-English speakers are saying and basically inform the reader of what’s going on?

I started thinking about this and then I started asking myself “how much license does a narrator really have?”.

I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts and advice.

Thank you.

You could make the translator the point of view character, or you could choose any other character who understands everything that you want the reader to know.

You could throw in a few “Robert listened while Martha translated,” at the beginning and then just give the translation as direct speech. This is what news broadcasts usually do: after a few words, they fade out the original speaker and just give you the translation.

You can have a completely omniscient narrator if you want, but I don’t think this specific scene requires one.


Thank you, Katherine.

I will use that approach.

Also, thank you for showing me that the word I was thinking of but didn’t use was omniscient.