Different Types of Narrators

A point of view frames the entire story, and a narrator conveys the narrative and conveys the character's thoughts and feelings as well as the themes and context to the reader.

Good day, I’ll be your narrator this evening. Today we’ll be learning about the importance of narrators in film and literature and the different types of narrators that exist within a work.

The importance of a narrator

A point of view frames the entire story, and a narrator conveys the narrative and conveys the character’s thoughts and feelings as well as the themes and context to the reader. 

This is important in a written work and in other media such as podcasts and visual media. The narrator can adopt either a personal approach or a distant tone.

Types of narrators

Naïve: 

An inexperienced narrator, usually young, senile, or from a different country with no knowledge of local culture, who has a limited understanding of events and may be unreliable. Example: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which features a child with an innocent worldview.

First-person perspective: 

One character, usually a protagonist or main character, narrates the story. The reader feels close to the story. 

Pronouns used are I, me, my, we, us, and our. Example: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Confessions of an ugly stepsister by Gregory Maguire.

Second-person perspective: 

This narrator addresses the reader directly via pronouns like ‘you’. Thus, pulling them into the action. This is an uncommon narrative technique not usually utilized in novel-length works as this kind of narration can be overwhelming, confusing, or alienating to readers, so it is avoided. 

Example: ‘Choose your own adventure’ series. These books were popular in the 90s-early 2000s and featured options for readers to choose from to forward the narrative and even act as the protagonist themselves. This perspective is making a resurgence in interactive mobile games, which closely follow the choose your own adventure style. 

Third person detached:

This type of narrator sticks to the facts and has zero interjection into the characters’ lives or narratives.

 They are witnesses to the events, watching them unfold from outside, and can only report what’s unfolding but can not report on the thoughts of the character or offer any depth into the narrative. As a result, the readers are detached or removed from the story as well. The pronouns used are he, she, they, it, them, theirs. 

Example: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

Third-person limited: 

This narration style only offers the perspective of a single character. It blends the first-person perspective providing some sense of intimacy to the reader and the flexibility of the third-person perspective. There is switching between perspectives, and it also involves an unreliable narrator. So, you see, there’s a lot happening! 

However, this narrative is limited due to the narrator’s ability to only reveal the thoughts and feelings of only a single character. This narrative is often biased and can offer only a warped perspective on the unknown character who is being ‘watched’ by the narrator.

 The motives of the character aren’t known to the narrator either, and the narrative can be misleading to readers. 

But it can also be utilized to create suspense and surprise for readers due to sudden switches in point of view. 

E.g.: In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth can only assume and only has a limited viewpoint of the cold and distant Darcy. 

Another example is an inspector in a crime drama series who is investigating a case but has limited knowledge of the suspect’s movements.

Third-person omniscient: 

The narrator conveys, shares, and reveals to the readers the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that a character is going through. Readers are allowed to interpret the events as they see fit. 

This narrative is open and flexible, and the narrator can be viewed as an all-seeing, all-knowing character himself/herself. He/she has access to the consciousness of various characters and can be interpreted as a godlike persona. He/she can also convey the scene’s atmosphere to readers, and they feel as real as the characters they’re describing. They also convey historical, philosophical, and social context without characters required to address it themselves.

Example: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The chaotic mind view of the vulnerable boys shipwrecked on the island is conveyed to the readers as the narrative progresses.

Multiple perspectives:

This type of narrative often involves flashbacks and is narrated from multiple perspectives. This requires the author to use different voices for different characters to sound unique to the reader. It also requires a strategic plan depending on which narrator will forward the story and whether they alternate between chapters. 

An example of a multiple narrator can be seen in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, wherein Nick is one of the narrators, but Amy also provides her point of view. Her diary entries act as a third narrator in this suspenseful story.

How to incorporate narrators into your work

Establish the point of view at the very beginning, so the readers are not confused by whose perspective they are following.

Ensure consistency throughout the scenes and if you are switching perspectives, only do it towards the end of each chapter or scene, so it doesn’t come off as disruptive to the readers. Sudden midway disruptions can cause a jarring effect for readers.

Now that you have learned about viewpoints, narratives, and narrators, go forth and astound us with your brilliant writing! Also, this goes without saying, but please do share this post with budding writers who might be interested in learning more on this topic.

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