The Art of Narration

29-Apr / Point of View-View All / 2 COMMENTS

If I could only ask an author I’m working with one question, it would be this:

Whose story are you trying to tell?

There are many different types of authors out there. Some like to outline the whole story and map out every detail from a character’s favorite color to how they chipped their front tooth falling from the monkey bars when they were seven years old. Then you have an author like Stephen King who has said that outlining stunts creativity and restricts the flow of the writer’s words. Somewhere in the middle there are authors like Janet Evanovich of Stephanie Plum—bounty hunter extraordinaire—fame that do minimal outlining, stating the outlining process should never exceed the actual writing process.

Every author is unique so there is no right or wrong way to go about writing a novel. One thing that is essential, regardless of if you outline or not, is that you need to constantly ask yourself, “Whose story is this?” Sometimes that changes through the writing process. But that’s okay! That’s what the editing process is for. Once you’ve figured out whose story it is, now you can decide how to tell it. And that’s where point of view comes in. Choosing the right narration method is essential in engaging your reader.

Why is it so important you ask?

Well here’s a list of what the point of view does to the story:

Why is Point-of-View so important?

Speaking of distance….

points of view

Different types of POV

First Person – One of the most popular POVs, the story is told by one of the main characters and filtered through their thoughts and emotions. First person narration uses the the pronoun “I” and the reader sees the world exclusively through that character’s eyes. In some novels, the POV will be split up into different characters, but it is still written in first person. First person is often used because readers immediately connect with the protagonist.

Second Person – This POV is the black sheep of the gang. It’s hardly ever used because of the distance it creates between the narrator and the reader. Second person is essentially the narrator telling you “your” story. It’s certainly not common and there are only so many ways you can justify someone else telling you what you did and how you feel. With that being said, it can be done quite well. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried comes to mind.

Third Person Limited – The story is told by a narrator, but the narrator is limited to only the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. Third person limited is also called third person subjective and uses the character’s name as well as the pronouns “she” or “he.”

Multiple Third Person Limited – A slight variation as the above where the narrator is not limited to the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. In multiple third person you tell the story from one viewpoint at a time but that viewpoint character can change from scene to scene.

Third Person Omniscient – This POV makes the narrator appear god-like—all knowing, all seeing.  Similar to third person limited, the story will use character’s names and the pronouns “she” and “he,” but the narrator is no longer limited to one character’s thoughts; instead the narrator knows everyone’s thoughts and actions. The story can move to different locations and isn’t tied to a single character.

Third person is definitely the trickiest of the narratives and it takes a certain finesse to pull it off. But don’t let that scare you away from using it.  There are major pros to using it. (There will be a whole article dedicated to third person at a later time.)

No matter which method you choose, just make sure you’re consistent. No changing from first person to third person halfway through.

Happy writing!