The Five Powers of Narration image

One of the hardest things that a writer faces when starting a story is deciding on its narrative perspective. The most comfortable method to choose for most writers would be the first person narrative because the author can write the story as if he were writing a journal entry. However, did you know that there are five different ways to narrate your story?

The first, and most widely-used by new authors, is the first person narrative. This method is a clean and comfortable default to use because it allows the author to place himself as the main character. In turn, any future readers will be able to have the same experience by being given an instant bond with the story’s lead role. Some of the most common traits of this perspective are the use of “I”, “me”, “mine”, and “our”. Narratives, such as the first person, are commonly found in true stories, like memoirs, but can frequently be found in fiction, too. Of course, there is a downside to the use of this style, which is that the writer is stuck in the mind of the main character alone. Because of this restraint, many authors will eventually seek a more liberating form of writing.

If you’ve come looking for liberation in this paragraph, you may want to skip down one. I introduce to you, the rarest of writing forms, otherwise known as the second person narrative. The use of this technique is usually found in stories such as the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. In this perspective, the narrator is speaking directly to the reader and uses the word “you” quite often. As a result, the reader is placed as the main character and told what is happening to him by the author. Although this perspective can be fun for the reader, authors—or anyone for that matter—find this form to be incredibly awkward to write. Fortunately, we still have three more powerful narrations to discover.

“Third time’s the charm”, is it not? If so, then you’re going to love the third person narrative. However, if you’re coming straight here from the use of a first person narrative, you might want to cool your jets and let yourself adjust, because in this perspective the author must stay out of the characters head! That means there’s no reflecting on events, no explaining what the characters are thinking, and absolutely no meddling with the characters’ deepest inner desires, unless said desire has already been ‘outed’. When writing in the third person, the author needs to keeps his perspective like that of an impartial observer. While using this form, it is useful to think of it like you’re a spy or undercover agent that needs to stay out of hindsight while collecting pertinent evidence. The use of this method is often found in plays, where the narrator tells the story as it’s happening but can only make assumptions based on what has been revealed through actions and conversations between characters. At first glance, this method of writing can seem quite intimidating, due to the fact that it’s so easy to slip back into the minds of your beloved characters.

If you’re sick of first person and constantly find yourself frustrated with the third, may I recommend a more godly approach? That title, without a doubt in my mind, belongs to the omniscient third person. But what does this mean, you may ask? It means that you are all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful! With the use of this perspective, the author is able to feel what every character feels, and hear each and every one of their thoughts, too! Although you are still telling the story like you would in a third person narrative, you are able to bring the reader into the mind of any character that you wish. Of course, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, though. When using this narrative perspective, the author must practice restraint or chance revealing too much of the story too soon. In other words, it’s always good to indulge, but do so in careful moderation.

In the event that the omniscient third person becomes too dangerous for your carefully thought-out plot, but you like its style and freedom, you’ll probably be interested in the fifth and final narrative perspective, known as the limited omniscient. In this form, you still have the all-knowing benefits of the omniscient third person. However, you are only able to access the minds and hearts of one or two characters. This is a great technique to use when you have two, equally important, main characters. It allows the author to describe everything imaginable about the story’s hero, but enables you to shift gears and describe scenes involving any and all supporting characters, too—which are often the main reason that an author will eventually grow tired of writing in first person perspective.

So there you have it, five wonderful approaches to writing, and each one with its own unique set of pros and cons. When trying to select what form you should use, keep in mind that there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to your story. Moreover, remember that it is your story and choose the method that best fits your style and the desired feel of what you’re writing. Most importantly, never be afraid to try new things. The very worst thing that can happen is the strengthening of your writing. And I don’t know about you, but I really like those odds.

Published August 2, 2011

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