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Narration

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Narration is the use of a written or spoken


commentary to convey a story to an
audience.[1] Narration encompasses a set
of techniques through which the creator of
the story presents their story, including:

Narrative point of view: the perspective


(or type of personal or non-personal
"lens") through which a story is
communicated
Narrative voice: the format (or type
presentational form) through which a
story is communicated
Narrative time: the grammatical
placement of the story's time-frame in
the past, the present, or the future.

A narrator is a personal character or a non-


personal voice that the creator (author) of
the story develops to deliver information to
the audience, particularly about the plot. In
the case of most written narratives
(novels, short stories, poems, etc.), the
narrator typically functions to convey the
story in its entirety. The narrator may be a
voice devised by the author as an
anonymous, non-personal, or stand-alone
entity; as the author as a character; or as
some other fictional or non-fictional
character appearing and participating
within their own story. The narrator is
considered participant if he/she is a
character within the story, and non-
participant if he/she is an implied
character or an omniscient or semi-
omniscient being or voice that merely
relates the story to the audience without
being involved in the actual events. Some
stories have multiple narrators to illustrate
the storylines of various characters at the
same, similar, or different times, thus
allowing a more complex, non-singular
point of view.

Narration encompasses not only who tells


the story, but also how the story is told (for
example, by using stream of
consciousness or unreliable narration). In
traditional literary narratives (such as
novels, short stories, and memoirs),
narration is a required story element; in
other types of (chiefly non-literary)
narratives, such as plays, television shows,
video games, and films, narration is merely
optional.

Narrative point of view


Narrative point of view or narrative
perspective describes the position of the
narrator, that is, the character of the
storyteller, in relation to the story being
told.[2] It can be thought of as a camera
mounted on the narrator's shoulder that
can also look back inside the narrator's
mind.

First-person

With the first-person point of view, a story


is revealed through a narrator who is also
explicitly a character within his or her own
story. Therefore, the narrator reveals the
plot by referring to this viewpoint character
with forms of "I" (i.e., the narrator is a
person who openly acknowledges his or
her own existence) or, when part of a
larger group, "we". Frequently, the narrator
is the protagonist, whose inner thoughts
are expressed to the audience, even if not
to any of the other characters. A
conscious narrator, as a human participant
of past events, is an incomplete witness
by definition, unable to fully see and
comprehend events in their entirety as
they unfurl, not necessarily objective in
their inner thoughts or sharing them fully,
and furthermore may be pursuing some
hidden agenda. Forms include temporary
first-person narration as a story within a
story, wherein a narrator or character
observing the telling of a story by another
is reproduced in full, temporarily and
without interruption shifting narration to
the speaker. The first-person narrator can
also be the focal character.

Second-person

The second-person point of view is closest


to the first person, with its possibilities of
unreliability, but the point-of-view character
is referred to as "you" rather than "I". This
does not suggest that the reader is a
character within the story, or is being
addressed directly, but rather to suggest
an alienated, emotional, or ironic distance,
as is commonly the situation in the short
fiction of Lorrie Moore and Junot Diaz. A
further example of this mode in
contemporary literature is Jay McInerney's
Bright Lights, Big City, in which the second-
person narrator is observing his life from a
distance as a way to cope with a trauma
he keeps hidden from readers for most of
the book:

"You are not the kind of guy who


would be at a place like this at
this time of the morning. But here
you are, and you cannot say that
the terrain is entirely unfamiliar,
although the details are fuzzy." —
Opening lines of Jay McInerney's
Bright Lights, Big City (1984)

Third-person

In the third-person narrative mode, each


and every character is referred to by the
narrator as "he", "she", "it", or "they", but
never as "I" or "we" (first-person), or "you"
(second-person). This makes it clear that
the narrator is an unspecified entity or
uninvolved person who conveys the story
and is not a character of any kind within
the story, or at least is not referred to as
such.[3]

Traditionally, third-person narration is the


most commonly used narrative mode in
literature. It does not require that the
narrator's existence be explained or
developed as a particular character, as
with a first-person narrator. It thus allows a
story to be told without detailing any
information about the teller (narrator) of
the story. Instead, a third-person narrator is
often simply some disembodied
"commentary" or "voice", rather than a fully
developed character. Sometimes, third-
person narration is called the "he/she"
perspective.[4]

The third-person modes are usually


categorized along two axes. The first is the
subjectivity/objectivity axis, with third
person subjective narration describing one
or more character's personal feelings and
thoughts, and third person objective
narration not describing the feelings or
thoughts of any characters but, rather, just
the exact facts of the story. The second
axis is the omniscient/limited axis, a
distinction that refers to the knowledge
held by the narrator. A third person
omniscient narrator has, or seems to have,
access to knowledge of all characters,
places, and events of the story, including
any given characters' thoughts; however, a
third person limited narrator, in contrast,
knows information about, and within the
minds of, only a limited number of
characters (often just one character). A
limited narrator cannot describe anything
outside of a focal character's particular
knowledge and experiences.

Alternating person

While the general trend is for novels (or


other narrative works) to adopt a single
point of view throughout the novel's
entirety, some authors have experimented
with other points of view that, for example,
alternate between different narrators who
are all first-person, or alternate between a
first- and a third-person narrative
perspective. The ten books of the
Pendragon adventure series, by D. J.
MacHale, switch back and forth between a
first-person perspective (handwritten
journal entries) of the main character
along his journey and the disembodied
third-person perspective of his friends
back home.[5] Margaret Atwood's Alias
Grace provides one character's viewpoint
from first-person as well as another
character's from third-person limited.
Often, a narrator using the first person will
try to be more objective by also employing
the third person for important action
scenes, especially those in which they are
not directly involved or in scenes where
they are not present to have viewed the
events in firsthand. This mode is found in
the novel The Poisonwood Bible.

Flora Rheta Schreiber, who wrote the book


Sybil, used the third person omniscient
view to explain the events of the title
character's alleged multiple personality
disorder, her attempts to cope and her
treatment, except in one chapter where
Schreiber switches to first person
(narrator-as-author) to describe when she
had the opportunity to meet the actual
person identified by the pseudonym Sybil
(posthumously identified as Shirley Ardell
Mason), and, under hypnosis, one of her
alternate personalities.

Epistolary novels, which were common in


the early years of the novel, generally
consist of a series of letters written by
different characters, and necessarily
switching when the writer changes; the
classic books Frankenstein by Mary
Shelley, Dracula by Abraham "Bram" Stoker
and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
take this approach. Sometimes, however,
they may all be letters from one character,
such as C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters
and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary.
Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island
switches between third and first person, as
do Charles Dickens's Bleak House and
Vladimir Nabokov's The Gift. Many of
William Faulkner's novels take on a series
of first-person viewpoints. E.L.
Konigsburg's novella The View from
Saturday uses flashbacks to alternate
between third- person and first-person
perspectives throughout the book, as does
Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome. After
the First Death, by Robert Cormier, a novel
about a fictional school bus hijacking in
the late 1970s, also switches from first- to
third-person narrative using different
characters. The novel The Death of
Artemio Cruz, by Mexican writer Carlos
Fuentes, switches between the three
persons from one chapter to the next, even
though all refer to the same protagonist.
The novel Dreaming in Cuban, by Cristina
García alternates between third-person,
limited and first-person perspectives,
depending on the generation of the
speaker: the grandchildren recount events
in first-person viewpoints while the parents
and grandparent are shown in the third-
person, limited perspective.
Narrative voice
The narrative voice describes how the
story is conveyed: for example, by
"viewing" a character's thought processes,
reading a letter written for someone,
retelling a character's experiences, etc.

Stream-of-consciousness
voice

A stream of consciousness gives the


(typically first-person) narrator's
perspective by attempting to replicate the
thought processes—as opposed to simply
the actions and spoken words—of the
narrative character. Often, interior
monologues and inner desires or
motivations, as well as pieces of
incomplete thoughts, are expressed to the
audience but not necessarily to other
characters. Examples include the multiple
narrators' feelings in William Faulkner's
The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying,
and the character Offred's often
fragmented thoughts in Margaret
Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Irish writer
James Joyce exemplifies this style in his
novel Ulysses.

Character voice
One of the most common narrative voices,
used especially with first- and third-person
viewpoints, is the character voice, in which
a conscious "person" (in most cases, a
living human being) is presented as the
narrator; this character is called a
viewpoint character. In this situation, the
narrator is no longer an unspecified entity;
rather, the narrator is a more relatable,
realistic character who may or may not be
involved in the actions of the story and
who may or may not take a biased
approach in the storytelling. If the
character is directly involved in the plot,
this narrator is also called the viewpoint
character. The viewpoint character is not
necessarily the focal character: examples
of supporting viewpoint characters include
Doctor Watson, Scout in To Kill a
Mockingbird, and Nick Carraway of The
Great Gatsby.

Unreliable voice

Under the character voice is the unreliable


narrative voice, which involves the use of a
dubious or untrustworthy narrator. This
mode may be employed to give the
audience a deliberate sense of disbelief in
the story or a level of suspicion or mystery
as to what information is meant to be true
and what is to be false. This lack of
reliability is often developed by the author
to demonstrate that the narrator is in
some state of psychosis. The narrator of
Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," for example, is
significantly biased, unknowledgeable,
ignorant, childish, or is perhaps
purposefully trying to deceive the
audience. Unreliable narrators are usually
first-person narrators; however, a third-
person narrator may be unreliable.[6]

Examples include Nelly Dean in Wuthering


Heights, "Chief" Bromden in One Flew Over
the Cuckoo's Nest,[7] Holden Caulfield in the
novel The Catcher In The Rye, Dr. James
Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd,
Stark in Only Forward, Humbert Humbert in
the novel Lolita, Charles Kinbote in the
novel Pale Fire and John Dowell in the
novel The Good Soldier.

A naive narrator is one who is so ignorant


and inexperienced that they actually
expose the faults and issues of their
world. This is used particularly in satire,
whereby the user can draw more
inferences about the narrator's
environment than the narrator. Child
narrators can also fall under this category.

Epistolary voice
The epistolary narrative voice uses a
(usually fictional) series of letters and
other documents to convey the plot of the
story. Although epistolary works can be
considered multiple-person narratives,
they also can be classified separately, as
they arguably have no narrator at all—just
an author who has gathered the
documents together in one place. One
example is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein,
which is a story written in a sequence of
letters. Another is Bram Stoker's Dracula,
which tells the story in a series of diary
entries, letters and newspaper clippings.
Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous
Liaisons), by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, is
again made up of the correspondence
between the main characters, most
notably the Marquise de Merteuil and the
Vicomte de Valmont. Langston Hughes
does the same thing in a shorter form in
his story "Passing", which consists of a
young man's letter to his mother.

Third-person voices

The third-person narrative voices are


narrative-voice techniques employed
solely under the category of the third-
person view.

Third-person, subjective
The third-person subjective is when the
narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings,
opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If
there is just one character, it can be
termed third-person limited, in which the
reader is "limited" to the thoughts of some
particular character (often the protagonist)
as in the first-person mode, except still
giving personal descriptions using "he",
"she", "it", and "they", but not "I". This is
almost always the main character (e.g.,
Gabriel in Joyce's The Dead, Nathaniel
Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, or
Santiago in Hemingway's The Old Man and
the Sea). Certain third-person omniscient
modes are also classifiable as "third
person, subjective" modes that switch
between the thoughts, feelings, etc. of all
the characters.

This style, in both its limited and


omniscient variants, became the most
popular narrative perspective during the
20th century. In contrast to the broad,
sweeping perspectives seen in many 19th-
century novels, third-person subjective is
sometimes called the "over the shoulder"
perspective; the narrator only describes
events perceived and information known
by a character. At its narrowest and most
subjective scope, the story reads as
though the viewpoint character were
narrating it; dramatically this is very similar
to the first person, in that it allows in-depth
revelation of the protagonist's personality,
but it uses third-person grammar. Some
writers will shift perspective from one
viewpoint character to another, such as in
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, or
George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and
Fire.

The focal character, protagonist,


antagonist, or some other character's
thoughts are revealed through the narrator.
The reader learns the events of the
narrative through the perceptions of the
chosen character.
Third-person, objective

The third-person objective employs a


narrator who tells a story without
describing any character's thoughts,
opinions, or feelings; instead, it gives an
objective, unbiased point of view. Often the
narrator is self-dehumanized in order to
make the narrative more neutral. This type
of narrative mode, outside of fiction, is
often employed by newspaper articles,
biographical documents, and scientific
journals. This narrative mode can be
described as a "fly-on-the-wall" or "camera
lens" approach that can only record the
observable actions but does not interpret
these actions or relay what thoughts are
going through the minds of the characters.
Works of fiction that use this style
emphasize characters acting out their
feelings observably. Internal thoughts, if
expressed, are given voice through an
aside or soliloquy. While this approach
does not allow the author to reveal the
unexpressed thoughts and feelings of the
characters, it does allow the author to
reveal information that not all or any of the
characters may be aware of. A typical
example of this so-called camera-eye
perspective is Hills Like White Elephants by
Ernest Hemingway.
This narrative mode is also called the third-
person dramatic because the narrator, like
the audience of a drama, is neutral and
ineffective toward the progression of the
plot—merely an uninvolved onlooker. It
was also used around the mid-20th
century by French novelists writing in the
nouveau roman tradition.

Third-person, omniscient

Historically, the third-person omniscient (or


simply omniscient) perspective has been
the most commonly used in narrative
writing; it is seen in countless classic
novels, including works by Charles
Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, and George Eliot. A
story in this narrative mode is presented
by a narrator with an overarching point of
view, seeing and knowing everything that
happens within the world of the story,
including what each of the characters is
thinking and feeling.[8] It sometimes even
takes a subjective approach. One
advantage of omniscience is that this
mode enhances the sense of objective
reliability (i.e. truthfulness) of the plot. The
third-person omniscient narrator is the
least capable of being unreliable –
although the character of omniscient
narrator can have its own personality,
offering judgments and opinions on the
behavior of the story characters.

In addition to reinforcing the sense of the


narrator as reliable (and thus of the story
as true), the main advantage of this mode
is that it is eminently suited to telling huge,
sweeping, epic stories, and/or
complicated stories involving numerous
characters. The disadvantage of this mode
is the increased distance between the
audience and the story, and the fact that –
when used in conjunction with a sweeping,
epic "cast-of-thousands" story –
characterization tends to be limited, thus
reducing the reader's ability to identify with
or sympathize with the characters. A
classic example of both the advantages
and disadvantages of this mode is J. R. R.
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Some writers and literary critics make the


distinction between the third-person
omniscient and the universal omniscient,
the difference being that the universal
omniscient narrator reveals information
that the characters do not have. Usually,
the universal omniscient perspective
reinforces the impression that the narrator
is not connected to the events of the story.

Third-person, free/indirect
The third person indirect style or free
indirect style is a method of presenting a
character's voice freely and spontaneously
in the middle of an otherwise third-person
non-personal narrator.

Third-person, alternating

Many stories, especially in literature,


alternate between the third person limited
and third person omniscient. In this case,
an author will move back and forth
between a more omniscient third-person
narrator to a more personal third-person
limited narrator. Typically, like the A Song
of Ice and Fire series and the books by
George R. R. Martin, a switch of third-
person limited viewpoint on some
character is done only at chapter
boundaries. The Home and the World,
written in 1916 by Rabindranath Tagore, is
another example of a book switching
among just three characters at chapter
boundaries. In The Heroes of Olympus
series the point of view changes between
characters at intervals.The Harry Potter
series is told in "third person limited" (in
which the reader is "limited" to the
thoughts of some particular character) for
much of the seven novels. However, it
deviates to omniscient on occasions,
particularly during the opening chapters of
later novels in the series, which switch
from the limited view of the eponymous
Harry to other characters (e.g. Snape).[9]

Narrative time
The narrative tense or narrative time
determines the grammatical tense of the
story, meaning whether it is presented as
occurring before, during, or after the time
of narration: i.e., in the past, present, or
future. In narration using the past tense,
the events of the plot are depicted as
occurring before the time at which the
narrative was constructed or expressed to
an audience or before the present
moment; this is by far the most common
tense in which stories are expressed. In
the present tense, the events of the plot
are depicted as occurring now — at the
current moment — in real time. In English,
this tense, also known as the "historical
present", is more common in spontaneous
conversational narratives than in written
literature, though it is sometimes used in
literature to give a sense of immediacy of
the actions. A recent example of novels
narrated in the present tense are those of
the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne
Collins. The future tense is the most rare,
portraying the events of the plot as
occurring some time after the present
moment, in a time-period yet to come.
Often, these upcoming events are
described such that the narrator has
foreknowledge (or supposed
foreknowledge) of the future, so many
future-tense stories have a prophetic tone.

Other narrative modes


Fiction-writing mode

Narration has more than one meaning. In


its broadest sense, narration
encompasses all forms of storytelling,
fictional or not: personal anecdotes, "true
crime", and historical narratives all fit here,
along with many other non-fiction forms.
More narrowly, however, the term narration
refers to all written fiction. In its most
restricted sense, narration is the fiction-
writing mode whereby the narrator
communicates directly to the reader.

Along with exposition, argumentation, and


description, narration (broadly defined) is
one of four rhetorical modes of discourse.
In the context of rhetorical modes, the
purpose of narration is to tell a story or to
narrate an event or series of events.
Narrative may exist in a variety of forms:
biographies, anecdotes, short stories, or
novels. In this context, all written fiction
may be viewed as narration.

Narrowly defined, narration is the fiction-


writing mode whereby the narrator is
communicating directly to the reader. But
if the broad definition of narration includes
all written fiction, and the narrow definition
is limited merely to that which is directly
communicated to the reader, then what
comprises the rest of written fiction? The
remainder of written fiction would be in the
form of any of the other fiction-writing
modes. Narration, as a fiction-writing
mode, is a matter for discussion among
fiction writers and writing coaches.
The ability to use the different points of
view is one measure of a person's writing
skill. The writing mark schemes used for
National Curriculum assessments in
England reflect this: they encourage the
awarding of marks for the use of viewpoint
as part of a wider judgment.

Other types and uses

In literature, person is used to describe the


viewpoint from which the narrative is
presented. Although second-person
perspectives are occasionally used, the
most commonly encountered are first and
third person. Third person omniscient
specifies a viewpoint in which readers are
provided with information not available to
characters within the story; without this
qualifier, readers may or may not have
such information.

In movies and video games first- and third-


person describe camera viewpoints. The
first-person is from a character's own
perspective, and the third-person is the
more familiar, "general" camera showing a
scene. A so-called second-person may
also be used to show a main character
from a secondary character's perspective.
For example, in a horror film, the first-
person perspective of an antagonist could
become a second-person perspective on a
potential victim's actions. A third-person
shot of the two characters could be used
to show the narrowing distance between
them.

In video games, a first-person perspective


is used most often in the first-person
shooter genre, such as in Doom, or in
simulations (racing games, flight
simulation games, and such). Third-person
perspectives on characters are typically
used in all other games. Since the arrival
of 3D computer graphics in games it is
often possible for the player to switch
between first- and third-person
perspectives at will; this is usually done to
improve spatial awareness, but can also
improve the accuracy of weapons use in
generally third-person games such as the
Metal Gear Solid franchise.

Text-based interactive fiction


conventionally has descriptions written in
the second person (though exceptions
exist), telling the character what they are
seeing and doing, such as Zork. This
practice is also encountered occasionally
in text-based segments of graphical
games, such as those from Spiderweb
Software which make ample use of
second person flavor text in pop up text
boxes with character and location
descriptions. Charles Stross's novel
Halting State was written in second person
as an allusion to this style.[10][11]

See also
Narrative structure
Opening narration
Pace

References
Notes
1. Hühn, Peter; Sommer, Roy (2012).
"Narration in Poetry and Drama" . The Living
Handbook of Narratology. Interdisciplinary
Center for Narratology, University of
Hamburg.
2. James McCracken, ed. (2011). The
Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.).
Oxford University Press. Retrieved
October 16, 2011.
3. Paul Ricoeur (15 September 1990). Time
and Narrative . University of Chicago Press.
pp. 89–. ISBN 978-0-226-71334-2.
4. Ranjbar Vahid. The Narrator, Iran: Baqney
2011
5. White, Claire E (2004). "A Conversation
With D.J. MacHale ." The Internet Writing
Journal. Writer Write, Inc.
6. Unreliable Third Person Narration? The
Case of Katherine Mansfield , Journal of
Literary Semantics, Vol. 46, Issue 1, April
2017
7. Jill Walker Rettberg. "trusting kids with
unreliable narrators" .
8. Herman, David; Jahn, Manfred; Ryan
(2005), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative
Theory, Taylor & Francis, p. 442, ISBN 978-0-
415-28259-8
9. Rowling, J.K. (2005). Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury.
pp. 6–18. ISBN 0-7475-8108-8.
10. "Halting State, Review" . Publishers
Weekly. 1 October 2007.
11. Charles Stross. "And another thing" .
Further reading
Rasley, Alicia (2008). The Power of Point
of View: Make Your Story Come to Life
(1st ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's
Digest Books. ISBN 1-59963-355-8.
Card, Orson Scott (1988). Characters
and Viewpoint (1st ed.). Cincinnati, Ohio:
Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-
307-6.
Fludernik, Monika (1996). Towards a
"Natural" Narratology. London:
Routledge.
Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse. An
Essay in Method. Transl. by Jane Lewin.
Oxford: Blackwell 1980 (Translation of
Discours du récit).
Mailman, Joshua B. (2009). "An
Imagined Drama of Competitive
Opposition in Carter's Scrivo in Vento
(with Notes on Narrative, Symmetry,
Quantitative Flux, and Heraclitus)" .
Music Analysis, v.28, 2–3. Wiley. p. 373.
doi:10.1111/j.1468-2249.2011.00295.x .
Mailman, Joshua B. (2013) "Agency,
Determinism, Focal Time Frames, and
Processive Minimalist Music ," in Music
and Narrative since 1900. Edited by
Michael L. Klein and Nicholas Reyland.
Musical Meaning and Interpretation
series. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press.
Stanzel, Franz Karl. A theory of Narrative.
Transl. by Charlotte Goedsche.
Cambridge: CUP 1984 (Transl. of
Theorie des Erzählens).

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