The narrator's point of view


    A story isn't just a series of words; a story needs a storyteller - a.k.a. the narrator! In writing, there are two possible candidates for this job: - 'Limited': the narrator is stuck in one character's head. Who that POV character is might change in the story, but you can't be in more than one head at once. The reader can only read about what this character knows. This type is very suitable to let the reader connect with the POV character, because the reader gets to know the character so well. - 'Omniscient': the narrator knows everything all at once, which includes the knowledge and feelings of all characters present. It's much more distancing for the reader than limited, but the reader gets a lot of different information in return. Additionally to that, the narrator has three ways to tell his story: - First person: the story gets told in 'I' form. - Second person: the story gets told in 'you' form. - Third person: the story gets told in 'he/she' form. Now combine limited/omniscient with first/second/third, and you get your type of narrator. Of course, this works much better with some examples - and I encourage you to try this out yourself. It's not as easy as it might sound... I'm not even 100% sure I did this right, so please don't take everything I say for granted.

    The rough draft

    I'll use a scene from my own WIP as an example: Khorrek walks away to kickstart some mischievous plan, but his friend, Nik, doesn't follow him. The boy has doubts, and Khorrek does not see that instantly. The sentrin (a made-up race) uses a lame name joke to give Nik some motivation.

    First person - limited

    Extremely common type of narrator, especially in YA. The narrator is a character from the story (usually the main one). I walked away, but looked over my shoulder when I heard no footsteps behind me. Nik still stood in the corridor, looking as immovable as Granny without her walking stick. It made me frown. At least Granny had old age as an excuse to be an utter pain. What was Nik's problem? The boy fumbled with the hat in his hands. 'This sounds like a bad idea. Are you sure you are right?' I laughed, went back to Nik, and put my arm around the his shoulders to usher him forward. 'Of course I'm right! It's in my name, you see: Khorrek-t.'

    First person - omniscient

    'God's point of view' - the narrator is not a character from the story, but some all-knowing being the reader is well aware of (but the characters might not be). It's a very rare, odd style, but I believe it has been used in novels. Khorrek walked away, and it pained me to see how unaware the sentrin was of Nik's lack of support. I knew the boy's feelings; I saw the doubts in his heart, and how it had glued his feet to the corridor's floor. It took several seconds before Khorrek's footsteps fell silent. The sentrin turned around, still having no clue about the struggles in the boy's mind. 'This sounds like a bad idea. Are you sure you are right?' Nik muttered as he nervously fumbled with the hat in his hands. Khorrek laughed, went back to Nik, and put an arm around the boy's shoulders. I knew the sentrin meant to give his friend some motivation, but I felt that Nik's aversion to the plan only grew bigger. 'Of course I'm right!' Khorrek said with a grin. 'It's in my name, you see: Khorrek-t.'

    Second person - limited

    Rare in normal novels, but common in 'choose your own adventure' (CYOA) stories. The narrator is 'you' - or better, the character you represent. I switched to present tense here because I think that works better. You walk away, but when you notice no one is following you, you turn around. Nik is still standing in the corridor. It makes you wonder what his problem is, and you frown at him. The boy fumbles with the hat in his hands. 'This sounds like a bad idea. Are you sure you are right?' You laugh at his question, go back to him, and put an arm around his shoulders to usher him forward. 'Of course I'm right! It's in my name, you see: Khorrek-t.'

    Second person - omniscient

    Just... WTF. This makes you sound like you are an all-knowing bystander. I don't think I've ever seen this in a story. Khorrek walks away, and it pains you to see how unaware the sentrin is of Nik's lack of support. You know the boy's feelings; You can see the doubts in his heart, and how it glues his feet to the corridor's floor. It takes several seconds before Khorrek's footsteps fall silent. The sentrin turns around, and you know he still doesn't have clue about the struggles in the boy's mind. 'This sounds like a bad idea. Are you sure you are right?' Nik mutters as he nervously fumbles with the hat in his hands. Khorrek laughs, goes back to Nik, and puts an arm around the kid's shoulders. You know the sentrin means to give the boy some motivation, but at the same time, you feel that Nik's aversion to the plan only grows bigger. 'Of course I'm right!' Khorrek says with a grin. 'It's in my name, you see: Khorrek-t.'

    Third person - limited

    Extremely common type of narrator, especially in adult fiction. The narrator is a character from the story. Khorrek walked away, but the lack of footsteps behind him made the sentrin look over his shoulder. Nik still stood in the corridor, looking as immovable as Granny without her walking stick. Khorrek frowned. At least his grandmother had old age as an excuse to be an utter pain. What was Nik's problem? The boy fumbled with the hat in his hands. 'This sounds like a bad idea. Are you sure you are right?' Khorrek laughed, went back to Nik and put his arm around the kid's shoulders to usher him forward. 'Of course I'm right! It's in my name, you see: Khorrek-t.'

    Third person - omniscient

    Not as common as first or third person limited, but it's still used, especially in epic, 'Tolkien-style' Fantasy. The narrator knows everything, but is invisible*. Khorrek walked away, unaware that Nik didn't follow him. The boy's doubt had glued his feet to the corridor's floor, and it took Khorrek multiple steps to realise he wasn't followed. 'This sounds like a bad idea. Are you sure you are right?' Nik muttered as he nervously fumbled with the hat in his hands. Khorrek laughed, went back to Nik and put an arm around the kid's shoulders. The sentrin meant to give the boy some motivation, but Nik's aversion to the plan only grew bigger. 'Of course I'm right!' Khorrek said with a grin. 'It's in my name, you see: Khorrek-t.'

    And there might be others...

    Perhaps you've heard of deep POV, which is, I think, more a writing style than a narrator's viewpoint. What you do with deep POV is staying extremely close to the character you're following, and get rid of words like saw, heard, felt, etc. The idea is that the reader knows who the POV character is and that his story gets told through his senses without needing to say he is using them. So for example... Normal POV: Khorrek frowned and wondered what Nik's problem was. Deep POV: Khorrek frowned. What was Nik's problem? Deep POV isn't always better than normal, though. Being so stuck in a character's head can feel claustrophobic. I also found with my own writing that it can be confusing when you have multiple characters in a scene. Deep POV doesn't state whose POV is used, so if that isn't clear, the story can be quite a mess. This site gives some nice tips and tricks about deep POV!

    Cinematic point of view is something I've bumped into as well. Basically, you should treat your story as if it gets told through a camera with this one. You see and hear your characters, but you can't tell what's going on in their minds. Normal POV: Khorrek frowned and wondered what Nik's problem was. Cinematic POV: Khorrek frowned. Rather boring example, don't you think? It's almost the opposite of deep POV, because you create a distance between the character and the reader. To make this type of style interesting, you really need to make the most of the things 'the camera' can notice. Have another link if you want to see an article that describes this far better than I just did! Are there other types of POV for the narrator? Perhaps... But these are the ones I know.

    Some final thoughts...

    Keep in mind that even within the same type of narrator, the narrator can sound very different. Some narrators stay close to their characters, others are rather distant - some narrators are even downright liars! I think we should be glad these differences exist, otherwise all writers would sound the same.

    Even though the distance between reader and character can be flexible within a single narrator type, some types are just more flexible than others. Have you noticed that Khorrek doesn't mention his grandmother in all examples? He only does so when the narrator type is well suited to stay close to the character. Perhaps I could sneak Granny in the other snippets as well, but it would feel forced and perhaps confusing. So, to sum this up: - First person limited stays close to the character - it's actually hard to do the opposite! - Third person limited is the most flexible. You can go 'deep POV' here, or keep your distance. - Third person omniscient is very distant, because you have to keep track of multiple characters at once. Perhaps you can create a closer connection between the reader and a single character if you focus more on him and his emotions.

    - The other types are a bit weird...

    Feel free to fool around with this yourself! What style do you find the easiest to write?

    *Can you come up with a snippet that makes the narrator visible in third person omniscient? I was thinking of replacing 'I/me' in the first person omniscient snippet with 'he/him' (or even 'God/God's', to prevent confusion), but that would make said snippet third person limited. Lovely mindfuck, don't you think?

    #POV #pointofview #narrator #style #writing #limited #omniscient #firstperson #thirdperson #secondperson

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