"You sure are talkative... IN YOUR HEAD!"
So it turns out we need to have an article about the First-Person Smartass, and now I have to tell you everything about the type of narrator who's a first-person narrator (because you obviously didn't get that from the name
) and describes events in a consistently snarky or sardonic tone
. He does this since he knows that, contrary to the popular misconception, narration isn't about letting the reader in on the plot; it's about sharing with them every remotely entertaining half-of-a-train of thought you have.
This guy sometimes shows up in the Private Eye Monologue
sort of work, but Urban Fantasy
is where you really can't turn a corner without bumping into a dozen of them. If you want to find one, just cast a fireball in some otherwise normal city and before you're halfway done, some wannabe-protagonist will jump at you from behind a corner and start throwing pithy remarks at you about how you're being cliché and violating the laws of thermodynamics.
Well, fine, that's hyperbole, but you have to admit the guy is an awfully convenient proxy
to have around if you're a clever author who wants to show the world how clever
you are. Not to mention he can also function as an Audience Surrogate
, incorporating and defusing a reader's skepticism with endless Lampshade Hanging
of whatever bits of the story don't make sense. You can almost feel the enormous weight of the entire story's Willing Suspension of Disbelief
on this poor guy's shoulders.
You can expect this guy to be intellectual and well-acquainted with pop culture (or at least works with which the author is familiar
), so he can make all the right clever references at the right time. This won't prevent them from being described as uneducated, bad at school, or book dumb
; these traits are apparently all the rage for Audience Surrogates
nowadays as people can't identify with someone who might possibly be a better person than they are
The Trope Namer
was a review of Steven Brust's Dragaera
series by The Library of Babel
. And of course you're going to click that, because the "click hither and educate thyself" tone of that sentence just screams
Compare Lemony Narrator
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- This has become a fairly common practice in Spider-Man comic books.
- The protagonist of the mega-multi-cross fanfic Sleeping with the Girls, mainly as a device to keep the protagonist deliberately unnamed as an Affectionate Parody of the ISO Standard self-insert fic.
- The narrator from Marie D Suesse And The Mystery New Pirate Age! occasionally takes breaks from narrating the story to make fun of common cliches found in fanfics and point out logical fallacies.
- Daniel Lawson in the Glee fanfic series The Harmonverse takes this trope and has his babies- one of the best things about Daniel is how he snarks about anything in front of him.
- Turnabout Storm: True to Ace Attorney form, both point of view characters, Phoenix Wright and Twilight Sparkle, partake in this to cope with the fact that they are the Only Sane Man/Mare in a world of crazies. Even then, neither is shy about pulling some regular snarking occasionally.
- My Little Investigations protagonist Twilight Sparkle is this as per Ace Attorney standards.
- And, to pull off the trifecta, Hard Reset and its sequels feature Twilight's perspective. While not overloaded, she still has her moments.
- Starlight Over Detrot has Detective Hard Boiled do this, as part of its Noir styling.
- Calvin & Hobbes: The Series
- Hobbes narrating like this in "The Time Pauser".
- Calvin gets his turn for the first half of "The Transmitter Conspiracy Part 1".
- Jericho, the narrator of Jericho, whose narration style is founded upon snark. Without breaking the fourth wall, he is constantly making fun of the story he's in and the world and characters therein, kind of like a demented Douglas Adams.
- Link is very much this in The Legend of Link: Lucky Number 13. Turns out that in the first person sections he's conversing with a shadow demon that's sharing his body, so it makes sense he'd describe things less than objectively.
- Miho is this in Innocence Need Not Apply, as a result of the author applying Alternative Character Interpretation to her experiences, resulting in her becoming jaded and bitter, but determined to save the lives of her comrades should they fall into danger, although she doesn't always express said feelings openly.
- When Stephen King characters tell their own stories, they have a tendency to be this way, but it's mostly light and situational cynicism on display, rather than the characters being chronic smartasses. Michael Noonan of Bag of Bones is probably the best example.
- The titular Percy Jackson of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It's probably common amongst Half-Bloods, as a coping mechanism extension of their diagnosed-as-ADHD battle instincts. After all, if you find yourself standing before Hades, God of the Dead, who's cloaked in a robe sewn together from souls of the damned, then wondering what some poor saps must've done to get themselves assigned to being his boxer shorts has got to be better than having your mind lock up in fear.
- Confirmed, as The Heroes of Olympus Sequel Series shows the point of view of multiple demigods, all of whom are various levels of smartass. (Though not of the first person variety).
- Archie Goodwin of the Nero Wolfe books might be the ur-example.
- Spenser is somewhat a Poor Man's Substitute of this trope and is often brought up as the direct inspiration for fantasy novels using this character-type.
- The protagonist of Frank Portman's "King Dork" mentally snarks his way through the book, but is usually less than stellar at speaking aloud. To wit: "By my count, I had said no more than twenty-one words to her, and that's only if you count 'um'. And my first bit of dialogue had been nothing less retarded than 'I'm cool"
- Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos in the Dragaera series who besides being an aristocrat of a sort reflects Brust's Author Appeal in being a gourmet cook. One of the first examples of this in fantasy, along with Corwin from The Chronicles of Amber, and indirect Trope Namer.
- When Kiera the Thief is narrating in Orca, she's this way as well, albeit not quite as good at it as Vlad.
- Glen Cook utilises this in some of his series:
- Garrett, P.I., being a fantasy Noir work, features this.
- In Black Company, the various Annalists tend to snark at most everything.
- Sean Drummond, narrator of Brian Haig's novels, often speculates on things he'd like to say but shouldn't. Or things he did say, and shouldn't have.
- The No Name Given spy protagonist of The Ipcress File and sequels by Len Deighton.
- Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files is a private eye in an urban fantasy verse, so of course he indulges. Expect at least two bad jokes or pop culture references per page, though he isn't as much of a Deadpan Snarker as most examples.
- Also, Thomas Raith, the narrator and hero of the Dresdenverse story Backup. Better at snark than Harry, too.
- John Marcone narrates the story "Even Hand," and he turns out to be a master of deadpan sarcasm who surpasses even Thomas.
- Jim Butcher likes this trope. He also used it for his Spider-Man novel, "The Darkest Hours", casting Peter Parker as the narrator.
- Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco - a good cook, and married to an aristocrat. Also a deconstruction of this trope; as a citizen of 1st century Rome, he hasn't read any Chandler and doesn't know that private eyes are loners...
- Colt Regan does this quite a bit in between strange tangents on such subjects as the political leanings of baked goods.
- Also true of many other Urban Fantasy narrators such as Rachel Morgan (The Hollows), Anita Blake, Kelley Armstrong's heroines in the Women Of The Otherworld books (some more smartass than others), Kitty from the Kitty Norville series, and Cal of Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series.
- Corwin and Merlin from Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber possibly started the trend in Fantasy. Random gets in on the action for a chapter, too, when he's telling Corwin about one of his recent adventures.
- As a dark example, Dexter somewhat fits this type, being a surprisingly charming and cheerful Serial Killer.
- John Taylor from Simon R. Green's Nightside series is like a more pessimistic Harry Dresden.
- David Wong, of John Dies at the End, deadpans, lies, and occasionally half-heartedly mocks the weird shit that confronts him and his goofball friend. He occasionally veers into nihilistic author tracts... that are actually attempts by the Shadow Men to get him to commit suicide and stopping his heroics.
- Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain Warhammer 40,000 novels are excerpts from his private memoirs. In them, Cain reveals that he is very much a Deadpan Snarker at heart, regardless of how well he hides it in public.
- Bartimaeus of The Bartimaeus Trilogy in the chapters he narrates, and even more so in the footnotes.
- In the last book of the trilogy, he even manages to snark chapters another character narrates because he and Nathaniel are sharing a body.
- Warren Ellis's Crooked Little Vein features a main character who tells the story from the first person and is most definitely a smartass, but subverts the rest of the trope by... well, being a typical Ellis protagonist, really.
"I don't have a secretary. Sometimes I flip on a phone voice-changer I got for five bucks on eBay and pretend to be my own secretary. It is very sad."
- Dennis St. Michel from The Luck of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount Stokington is one of these, usually insulting or mocking the other characters in his narration while being polite or deferential in his dialogue.
- Justified in Matt Stover's Heroes Die, where the protagonist is having his experiences as a particularly violent sort of adventurer in a fantasy world recorded for the entertainment of the masses on a dystopian future Earth.
- Thomas Lang, protagonist of Hugh Laurie's "The Gunseller" is a less well read example of this.
- "Yes, he had one arm and he taught unarmed combat. Sometimes life is like that."
- Bob Howard in the "Laundry" novels by Charles Stross is Harry Palmer as a computer geek. Who has to deal with monster.
- Pick a Chuck Palahniuk book. Any Chuck Palahniuk book.
- Subverted by Betsy Taylor, the heroine and narrator of the Betsy the Vampire Queen series. She's got the tone right, but she takes the "smart" out of "smartass".
- Jacob, when he narrates part of Breaking Dawn.
- James "Slippery Jim" DiGriz of The Stainless Steel Rat series.
- Odd Thomas definitely counts, though he's usually more humble about his smartass remarks. Being a Dean Koontz character, though, he also often goes on philosophical tangents, which is pleasant.
- Anita Blake has shades of this.
- Arkady Makarovich Dolgoruky, eponymous (and well-described) narrator of Dostoevsky's The Adolescent.
- Felix Castor in Mike Carey's series is another urban fantasy example, like a much, much darker Harry Dresden.
- Caliban Leandros, oh so very much. His brother Niko has his moments as well, though he's much more restrained.
- Thomas Ligotti does this a lot, albeit rather subtly.
- Delia Marshall Turner's Nameless Magery is a mix of SF and fantasy, narrated by the rather self-deprecating and earthy character of Lisane, who is quite well-educated by the standards of her own planet. Some of the humor comes from Lisane's observations about the culture of the alien planet she has crash-landed on and comparisons to the culture of her homeworld. The sequel Of Swords And Spells is narrated by Malka, who is also a bit sarcastic and tends to give herself self-deprecating nicknames like "Malka the Mighty, victorious in defeating soup", though she is not quite as snarky as Lisane.
- Rivers of London, told from the ever so slightly sarcastic and opinionated POV of Detective Constable Peter Grant.
- Animorphs does this with all of the humans to some extent, but mostly Marco.
- Pagan Kidrouk from the The Pagan Chronicles bleeds this trope.
- The anonymous narrator of Red Harvest. "I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker called Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he’d done to the city’s name. Later I’d heard men who could pronounce their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later, I went to Personville and learned better."
- In some of the stories from Stanislaw Lem's Tales of Pirx the Pilot, Pirx himself is narrating and shows off his snarky kind of humor.
- The titular character of the Maximum Ride series. Somewhat justified in that she tends to use sarcasm as a coping mechanism to deal with her screwed up life. And she's a teenager.
- From the same author, the titular character of the Daniel X series is also like this
- Alcatraz Smedry is a First-Person Smartass narrator for the Alcatraz Series.
- Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum character is all over this.
- Gemma from A Great And Terrible Beauty does this. It frequently gets her in trouble, as what she's thinking is pretty damn funny, so she cracks a smile, usually at the worst time possible.
- R from Warm Bodies. Justified, as he has trouble actually making legible words with his mouth (he is a zombie, after all), so most of the snarky dialogue we get from him is simply his train of thought.
- While generally the opposite of this trope, P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster has his moments.
I don't know if you have ever tooled off to East Dulwich to offer a strange female a hundred smackers to release your Uncle George. In case you haven't, I may tell you that there are plenty of things that are lots better fun.
- Gen, the narrator of the first book in The Queen's Thief series, dips into this often.
- Georgia Nicolson in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books.
- Philip Marlowe too, so much.
- Holden Caulfield from Catcher In The Rye, big time.
- Cameron Smith, the protagonist and narrator of Libba Bray's novel Going Bovine
- Even Alex, from A Clockwork Orange, is often this way - though he is really, really (rightfully) pissed at most of the other characters. It can be pretty difficult to notice, since he speaks entirely in Nadsat.
- Fly in Doom is a major smartass, making sarcastic and witty remarks even as things almost literally go to hell. Arlene, Albert, and Jill are all smartasses in their POV chapters as well.
- Vern, the main character of the "Dragon Eye, PI" series by Karina Fabian. He's a dragon who was shrunken down in size and power by St. George (the magically super-powered pain in the tail) who is from a parallel world of magic but now living in ours since The Gap (the name which scientists gave it which, Vern assures us, made a certain company leap for joy) opened to allow traffic between worlds, and currently deals with crimes where Mundane and Magical cross. Need confirmation, check out his introduction to himself, his partner (Sister Grace), and the 'verse: http://dragoneyepi.blogspot.com/p/dragoneye-universe.html
- Every viewpoint character in Of Fear and Faith has shades of this, August and Aiden especially.
- The unnamed narrator of Mr Blank.
- The narration of The First Law is third-person, but characters' thoughts are stated so often that there's a definite impression of First-Person Smartass. Especially in any viewpoint chapter of Glokta's.
Live Action TV
- Veronica Mars.
- Dexter is just as much a smart-ass on TV as in the books, if not more so. There's even a subversion in one episode where Dex's internal monologue becomes external for a line; the only one who notices, of course, is Doakes.
- Burn Notice has Jeffrey Donovan's character Michael Westen consistently snarking about his situation and environment, though he walks the line between First-Person Smartass and Deadpan Snarker with stylish aplomb.
- Upon rigging a club with C4, Michael walks in on the club owner/drug distributor with a business proposal, drinks his alcohol and acts pretty much like he owns the place... while holding a dead man's switch. If he is injured and lets go, the place will explode. As this happens, he narrates:
"Sometimes the only way to win is to ensure that if you lose, everyone loses. It works for nuclear weapons, and it works for me."
- George of the Mundane Afterlife Dramedy Dead Like Me.
- In the Game of Thrones box sets, there is in-character discussion and lectures about various bits of Weserosi history, places, and events. Most characters do so simply in an informational manner, (although there are occasional hints of Unreliable Narrator, Half Truths, exaggerating the glories of minor victories or sly hints at things that history is too polite to talk about) but the sections done by Stannis Baratheon are peppered with smart ass comments. (Which, considering the personality Stannis has, is rather ironic.) A few examples:
At the time, Westeros was a filthy backwater with seven kings squabbling over borders and minor glories. *beat* So much for progress.
(On the subject of the island of Dragonstone) The island itself was and is nothing. It had no gold or gems to lure Valyrian nobility. All it has is rock. Mostly a shiny black stone too brittle for war and too sharp for building. The Targaryens called it "dragon glass". I call it it useless.
The Targaryens managed to raise a castle here. Simpletons claimed they used ancient Valyrian sorcery, forgetting that the Targaryens brought a small army with them from Essos. There's no magic in strong backs.
- One can't end this section without mentioning Will from The Inbetweeners who is both the main protagonist and the voice-over narrator. Already a Deadpan Snarker of dimensions in the series itself, he manages to take it up a notch when he narrates. In reviews, even people who don't like the series and/or movie in general will usually admit to have gotten a few laughs out of Will's narration. The appeal (especially to grown-up viewers) probably comes from how he criticizes phenomena in everyday life that seem completely normal or even cool to most teenagers, but when you grow up, you realize how stupid or awkward they were.
- The main character of Discworld Noir.
- Phoenix Wright of the Ace Attorney series fits the description as well. In fact, any playable character in any of the Ace Attorney games is this trope, because it's probably the best way of handling their Only Sane Man status.
- Shaun Hastings from the Assassin's Creed series has a strong tendency to enter his entries into the Animus database in this manner. Expect him to painfully show you how obviously inferior you are to him. What else would you expect if you have a professional Dead Pan Snarker maintain a digital encyclopedia?
- Garret from the Thief series is at least an FPS smart ass.
- Kyle Hyde from Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a quite a smartass - and it even seeps into his dialogue with other characters, but he's also arguably the Only Sane Man in the titular Hotel.
- Touch Detective's heroine, Mackenzie.
- Shirou of Fate/stay night. He's more famous for not dying when he is killed in the anime adaptation, but in the game, his narration is remarkably sarcastic. This is made more obvious when you realize that despite the narrative shift from Rin in the prologue to Shirou in the actual game, the actual observations don't change at all. The only major change is the motivations of the narrator. Rin actually likes him because she senses this side of him, which is why she spends so much time making fun of him. Archer is what Shirou would be like if he stopped being polite.
- Squall Leonhart of Final Fantasy VIII acts like this a few times. He's fairly mild about it, though. Ramped up in Dissidia, where he prefers to let his gunblade do the talking, but don't you go and get the impression that he doesn't think less of you. He does. Oh my, he does.
- Your character in Kingdom of Loathing often acts this way, as part of the game's general style and sense of humor.
- Even Mario's bro Luigi gets in on this when you examine objects with the Game Boy Horror.
- Hisao Nakai of Katawa Shoujo is quite snarky in his narration.
- Descent's Material Defender.
Bureaucrat: "You will have multiple objectives on this mission."
Material Defender: You mean contradictory objectives, don't you? Destroy all infected mines. Keep the invading force from spreading further. But be sure to rescue any survivors. Destroy as many robots as possible. And each one of these objectives is the most important. Why did they have to design this mission by committee?
Material Defender: Translation from bureaucratese: they're hosed, and I'm the only one that can cut their loses.
- Tomoya from CLANNAD, as you'd expect when the narrator is The Gadfly.
- Riki of Little Busters, another Key Visual Arts game, is also kind of snarky, though much less so than Tomoya, and he tends to keep his inner misgivings to himself unless he's talking to someone he knows can take it such as Masato or Kurugaya.
- Most of the narrators in the Metro City Chronicles.
- Phase, in the webfiction Whateley Universe. Phase is a superpowered mutant rather than a PI, but in the stories in which he is the narrator, he is a snarky commentator, very intellectual, well read, even for a teenager who has been to all the 'right' private schools, far too knowledgeable about food (even if he's spent his life as the heir to billions eating the finest food anywhere), and still associates with the other rich kids at the Super Hero School Whateley Academy.
- Oh, and he seemingly reads TV Tropes. "Xanatos Gambit?" "Xanatos Gambit."
- Chaka has a snarky observation for many a situation. She's a lot more easy-going than Phase, though. Most people are.
- Gaven Morren of The Tale Of The Exile is this, being partially based on Garret from the Thief series mentioned above.
- Freeman's Mind turns the Silent Protagonist of Half-Life into a snarky, sarcastic sociopath.
- ''The Lay of Paul Twister Paul Twister]] narrates his stories in this style.
And now you're expecting something funny here, aren't you?