Welcome to the first in a blog series dedicated to studying the many choices that go into deciding the right narrator for your story. Today’s post is a general overview of the elements that pertain to narrator and for the next few weeks we’ll be exploring each in detail.
So let’s get to it!
When a story idea first sparks, it’s often the plot and characters that claim the forefront of our mind. Depending on your story’s genre, you might then turn your attention to worldbuilding, setting, figuring out the clues of a mystery, foreshadowing, twist endings. The list goes on and on. These elements often take our focus, but we have to be careful not to forget a most important ingredient: narration!
Choosing a narrator for your story decides many factors. It decides how much information a reader will get through the story (limited or omniscient), if they’re experiencing the story in time or after the events (present vs. past), the trustworthiness of the narrator (reliable vs. unreliable), and more.
* side note * I didn’t take the proper time to consider these elements when writing a story and had to do three separate edits before I got it right * side note *
While none of these can be decided in a vacuum, let’s take a moment to break down each element to better understand what they are and how they can affect the story being told.
who is your narrator?
The narrator of the story is that character through whose eyes the reader receives the narrative unfolding. The narrator can be any of the following: the protagonist, the antagonist, a side character, none of the above. The possibilities are essentially endless. And you don’t have to contain yourself to one either. Novels can have multiple narrators.
Look at some examples in the past (some spoilers ahead):
Death - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Susie Salmon (the ghost of) - Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
a fetus - Nutshell by Ian McEwan
12 different perspectives including a horse, a dog, a tree & the colour red - My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
Choosing who your narrator is opens up a number of other questions: their reliability, their sanity, their relationship to the main character, their relationship to the antagonist, etc. We’ll explore more of these in-depth in a later post.
Another question to ask relates to…
There are generally three different point-of-views: first, second & third.
Easy to remember, right?
A future post will delve more into exploring each one, but here’s a brief look into them.
First person relies primarily on I, me & us/we and tells the story through the eyes of a character that does not necessarily have to be your protagonist, or even a character in the story. It doesn’t necessarily limit the eyes of the narrator either. All it determines is the pronoun introduced.
Examples include Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (first person protagonist), Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (first person secondary) & Susie Salmon from Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (first person omniscient)..
Second person is less widely used than first or third, but is still an alternative to consider. Second person focuses on the you pronoun which brings the reader directly into the action, implicating them.
Examples include Stolen by Lucy Christofer & The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.
Lastly, we have third person, which is the furthest removed narration you can get in a story and uses pronouns of him/her, they & them. Though it does rely on a certain distance from the story, your narrator can still be omniscient or limited, can be the protagonist or any character in the book or any other object/person you feel best describes the story.
Examples include The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden (multiple perspectives), Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (multiple perspectives), A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin (multiple perspectives).
The next choice to make is whether your story is taking place in the past or the present. Past tense is the more widely used of the two. The reason why is evident in its own way: stories have been told, they have happened. Deciding to use present cements the story in the now which goes against its very nature. That isn’t to say it can’t or shouldn’t be done, but it needs to be deserved to be used.
Examples of past tense include: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.
Examples of present tense include: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough.
There you have it! A quick breakdown of the essential elements you need to consider as you focus on your story’s narrator. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments. And stay tuned for a corresponding downloadable resource coming later this week.
Remember to always write what’s in your heart.