Narrative Writing Definition – Narrative Point of View

Narrative Writing Point Of View WorkshopsNarrative is essential in telling your story, because basically, it IS your story! OK, maybe that’s a bit strong – it’s more the way a story is told. A basic narrative writing definition goes like this;

It’s any type of writing that tells a story in a chronological sequence of related events. Whenever a story is written or told, it is from a particular point of view, which means ‘Who is narrating the story?’

Narrative writing point of view examples will be given later on in the article, as they tend to drive the concept home more efficiently than dry definitions. One or two of these, such as second person point view, can seem pretty useless for most authors, but they all have a place.

The Basics Of Narrative within your story

Conflict equals Tension equals dramaWhose point of view you decide to tell the story from is important, because it directly affects the amount and the nature of the information given to your readers. Different narrative styles impact the way that characters emotions and motivations are understood.

Without dialogue, this can be difficult. A good author will take the time to explore the possibilities of the different POVs and choose one that is just right for the story. Believe me, like all good quality novel planning, it isn’t time wasted, but an essential part of writing your story.

Which Point Of View To Choose?

The simple choice is between first, second, and third person points of view. While it’s true the second person POV is not used very much, due to the difficulty in manipulating sentence, tense and grammar structure, it shouldn’t be ruled out entirely – it depends on your writing. Even so, the first and third person POVs give great flexibility.

You might prefer to have the main character tell the story in the first person narrative, or from the point of view of an observer, still using the first person.

If you choose the third person POV, you can choose objective narration, where you can make the reader aware of everything that goes on, anywhere in the story – this is called omniscient. You can also use limited omniscience, limited that is, to the space occupied by the main character.

Each style gives different types of information to the readers, so your choice of which one to use perspective will be according to what information you want to the reader to be aware of. Information such as internal/external conflict and the things that the character is aware of.

Remember that the definition of narrative writing is really basic: it’s writing that tells a story, nothing more. At the start of your writing project, a vital first step is to decide on the point of view of your narrative.

Infographic: Choosing Narrator Point Of ViewFirst Person Point Of View:

In first person point view, the main character, or hero, is telling the story. You know when this is being used because the narration uses the word “I”.

When reading, you see the story from his perspective. One limitation here is that the reader won’t know anything about people or events outside the character’s experience.

First Person Peripheral

You don’t have to use the hero. This POV could be from a secondary character, who is observing what’s happening. “I” is still used, but the same limitation applies: There will be events that happen to or around the main character (and also in the rest of the story) that the secondary character won’t know about, so he or she can’t tell the reader about them.

Infographic Source: https://infograph.venngage.com/p/145899/point-of-view

Third Person Point Of View:

This is by far the most common POV used in fiction writing, and is basically when the person narrating isn’t in the story at all, but floating around like a kind of God. You’ll know when the third person point of view is used when the narrative contains ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’.

Luckily, we can split third person into three main types, which gives some subtle styles to choose from.

Third Person Limited:

The limitation here is that the point of view is limited to just one character, but ‘what does that mean?’, I hear you say. It means that the person telling the story only knows whatever the character knows, which is not that Godly, I admit.

The narrator does have access the inside of the character’s head, his thinking and emotions, so pretty cool, or he can choose to view the scene from a broader perspective, accessing events not known to the protagonist.

Third Person Multiple:

This narrator can follow more than one character throughout the novel. Be very careful when you switch between characters that the reader understands what’s going and, indeed, that such a switch has been

made! This can be done by arranging the switches at chapter beginnings or showing clear breaks within longer chapters.

Third Person POVThird Person Omniscient:

This narrator really is God! He knows absolutely everything, everywhere in the story. He or she knows things that the characters don’t and can actually see their thoughts! They can also make comments about what’s happening, from any perspective they choose.

HINT: This is the one to go for if you are a newbie.

 

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In the video below, WarnerJordanEducation explain the common narrative points of view. The video transcript appears underneath:

https://youtu.be/ZkoMqu-Cz2g

Let’s go ahead and get right into it. All right, so what is point of view? Point of view is basically the perspective from which the story is told. Basically, we have to find out who is telling this story. Is his somebody who is in the story?

Maybe one of the characters is this some sort of outside narrator. A narrator who might know everything that’s going on, and be able to share that with us as the audience. Perhaps they are a narrator who only knows a couple things, and chooses to keep those more secret point of view.

The perspective that the story is being told from, point of view is important because it lets us know who is telling the story. At the literal level, that’s somewhat important. We want to find out who that person is, but we also want to be looking at that interpretive level and thinking.

Does this narrator know enough to tell us the story? Do they remember things wrong? Do they embellish? Are they reliable, are they not reliable? And so the first part is, we need to identify who is talking? Is it somebody within the story or is it some sort of narrator outside of that story?

Then we need to start looking at what is their bias. What is their perspective and how might their perspective vary from the absolute truth? The biggest thing for us to be looking at in terms of point of view is the narrator’s reliability. Should we believe him, or her?

Sometimes we get these narrators who are too young, maybe too old. Maybe have proven themselves to be forgetful, or perhaps they are embellishing to make themselves look good as a character. So, we have to look at that and say “who exactly is telling this story” and then what do we need to sift through in terms of their own bias to get at the root of the story.

Edgar Allen PoeA first example to look at point of view might be the short story by Edgar Allen Poe called the Tell-tale Heart. Take a look at some of the early narration here and start asking yourself “who is telling the story”? Should we be on guard in terms of taking him as a reliable narrator, or perhaps he’s a little bit unreliable or very dreadfully nervous?

‘It starts with the old man, an old man in an old house. A good man, I suppose. He had never harmed me. I didn’t want his gold, if gold there was. Then what was it? I think it was his eye. Yes, his eyes staring. Milky white film. The eye everywhere. Everywhere in everything. Of course, I had to get rid of the eye.’

We need to see which character or narrator is telling the story. One way to do that is to look at the pronouns that are being used. A first-person point view is going to use words like ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’. You know, all of those first-person pronouns, because that character is in the story and then telling it from his or her perspective.

Another way to look at it is whose perspective is most obvious, for example, in movies. Sometimes we follow only one character. The camera seems to linger on them. It seems to show from their perspective. They seem to see the world from a unique point of view,therefore the story is being told through their point of view.

And so we want to make sure that we are able to discern whose angle is the most pronounced when determining point of view. Let’s look at the various person point view narrative perspectives.

The first one is the idea of first-person point of view. The story is being told by a character in the story. We’re going to see those first-person pronouns and then we’re going to see that speaker’s perspective. An example of that is to Kill a Mockingbird. The story is told through Scout’s perspective.

We start to look at that in terms of reliability, we have to question. Can the young Scout be accurate in her remembering of what has happened? Even though the whole story is told by Scout after the fact, we then have to question “can she remember accurately?”

If this happened in her childhood and Scout has now aged, might things have been mistaken? Now that Scout has aged she’s truly telling the story, but might she have forgotten things. Might she get some details wrong? Might she embellish to makes certain people look good and other people look bad?

Those are all things that we get to play with in our mind and start to question about. When we’re looking at a first-person narrator, we want to make sure that we were looking at the narrator and determine if he or she is reliable. Should we believe him or her , and if we choose not to, why?

Is there something about them that makes them unreliable? And then, if we are choosing to see them as unreliable, what does that do to the story? Which things might be confused? Which things might be off-kilter? Those are things that we should be paying attention to.

We mentioned this before, but Scout is a first-person narrator and we do need the question ” is someone that is telling the story from flashback or who is experiencing the story as a young girl reliable”? Does she have all the details right and might the truth of that story be a little manipulated?

Go back to the Tell-tale Heart that we looked at before. The story is told by the young man who was in this story but see what he says. Does he paint a picture of a very reliable narrator? Might there be some things we want to believe but also some things we should not?

First person narrative point viewAs readers, we need to identify where the narrator is but then also is this person reliable or not. Looking at the text of Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump tells his own story while he’s sitting on that bench waiting for the bus. Is there any reason we should doubt the accuracy of his life story? Even though he’s telling it, see what kind of clues the filmmaker gives us to potentially have us question his reliability.

Another part of point of view is what we call the third person limited point view. This is basically that the story is told by an outside narrator. You’re going to see pronouns from that third-person category – ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, and ‘it’s’. This narrator is somebody watching from the outside and then telling the story from there.

If they are a limited third-person narrator that means that they can know the thoughts and feelings of one character. Most likely that’s going to be the main character, the protagonist. They’re going to tell the story through that person’s point of view.

There are always those times though where a narrator may seek to tell the story from a different perspective and kind of follow one other character. If the narrator does follow some sort of minor character, that creates all kinds of issues for us in terms of what he or she is privy to.

What does that minor character see? What do they not and are they being able to tell us the most reliable story? Here again, we need to go back to the idea of that narrator being reliable? What might they not see happening? If a narrator is limited they can only get inside the brain of one character.

What if they misinterpret what another character is thinking? What if they don’t understand what’s happening behind a closed door? Those are all kinds of things that a third person limited narrator might have problems with and so we as readers need to decide. Should we believe this narrator or should we question him or her.

The next type of third point of view that we look at is what we call third-person omniscient point view. Again, this is told by an outside narrator. We’re going to see the pronouns in the third person, he/she, etc so what makes a third person omniscient narrator different from a third person limited narrator?

The idea is that an omniscient narrator knows the thoughts and feelings of two or more characters. They might know the thoughts and feelings of every single character and that provides a very open book for us. As readers, we are able to see what everybody is thinking.

It’s very difficult to have any hidden secrets, things like tha,t because the narrator can choose to share every single thing. At the same time, we also have to be paying attention to when the narrator is choosing not to share certain things with us. Even though, as an omniscient narrator, he or she could.

We want to be paying attention to how many thoughts and feelings can this narrator know and how many is he or she sharing with us. As an audience, we kind of mentioned this already, but the narrator is outside. Should we believe him or her? What happens if an omniscient narrator starts out the story telling us everything about everybody, but then chooses to not reveal a certain point.

 

Kill a Locking Bird - POV

 

Might that hidden point come back later? Might that serve as foreshadowing? Might that serve as some sort of red flag for us to be paying attention? All of a sudden, that this narrator has chosen his or her mind to not reveal everything. Again, the point is we want to check the reliability of the narrator as that is our access point into the story.

We need to be paying attention to what he or she is giving us. So to sum up – point of view is the perspective from which the story is told. We have the three major ones. We have first-person, where the narrator is in the story.

Third person limited, where the narrator is outside of the story and knows the thoughts and feelings of probably just the main character. We also have third-person omniscient, where the narrator is again outside the story, but seems to know the thoughts and feelings of two or more, perhaps all of the characters.

The biggest thing with all of these is to examine the idea of reliability? Is the narrator telling us an objective story, or is he or she putting a slant on it, a bias, a perspective? We need to look at that and then potentially question it. Because as the point of view is revealed, that can help us get to the deeper theme of this novel?

What does it mean when the narrator chooses not to reveal certain things? What does it mean when the narrator does reveal everything? These are the important things that we need to examine when we’re looking at point of view.

5 Replies to “Narrative Writing Definition – Narrative Point of View”

  1. Hey Derek,

    Great Post! This is a very thorough lesson on narrative point of view. It kind of reminds me of being back in school. But, most importantly I think that I can utilize this now, as I continue creating content for my website. I think this will really help those who are having trouble with narrative writing. This can also help them remember the many different point of views when writing a story.

    Great Job,

    ~Emonne

    1. Derek Bruce says:

      Thanks Emonne. Yes, it’s true that knowing more about the craft of writing is really helpful, whatever it is you’re creating. It’s not all about writing long novels, but expressing yourself in an effective way, either to tell a story or sell a sports car!

  2. Even as a developed writer, I feel like point of view isn’t something I have mastered and this article was extremely helpful in considering the effects of each point of view. Something that seems rather simplistic ends up being the center of so much significance in your writing.

  3. Yes, I admit it, I have a weakness for 3rd person POV – it is so much easier to me to write that way, the ability to be omniscient is what makes this style of a narrative so much easier – it is much more flexible.
    I think that it would be a great challenge to write in the 2nd person POV…wow…wonder how many writers block I’d encounter with this POV? haha
    Thanks for this great article Jim, BTW like your narrative in your posts =)
    Orion

    1. Maybe 75% new novels are written in third person point view narrative perspective, but writers are experimenting with new POVs all the while. Not that there are new points of view, but they mix and match, sometimes using 3rd and 1st in the same paragraph. Of course, this is supposed to be a big no-no, like head-hopping, but if authors aren’t experimental, how do new styles appear

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