Narrative II

Narrative voice

The narrative voice describes how the story is conveyed (for example, by “viewing” a character’s thought processes, by reading a letter written for someone, by a retelling of a character’s experiences, etc.).

Stream-of-consciousness voice

Main article: Stream of consciousness (narrative mode)

stream of consciousness gives the (almost always 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, the character Offred’s often fragmented thoughts inMargaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the development of the narrator’s nightmarish experience in Queen‘s hit song, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Character voice

One of the most common narrative voices, used especially with first- and third-person viewpoints is the character voice in which an actual conscious “person” (in most cases, a living human being) is presented as the narrator. In this situation, the narrator is no longer an unspecified entity, but rather, a more relatable, realistic human character who may or may not be involved in the actions of his or her story and who may or may not take a biased approach in the storytelling. If he or she 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 The Great Gatsby‘s Nick Carraway.

Unreliable voice

Main article: Unreliable narrator

Under the character voice is the unreliable narrative voice which involves the use of a non-credible 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 false. This unreliability is often developed by the author to demonstrate that the narrator is psychologically unstable; has an enormous bias; is unknowledgeable, ignorant, or childish; or, is perhaps purposefully trying to deceive the audience. Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators. However, when a third-person narrator is considered unreliable for any reason, his or her viewpoint may be termed “third-person, subjective.”

Examples include Junie B. Jones in the Junie B. Jones children series by Barbara Park[2]Holden Caulfield in the novel “The Catcher In The Rye“, Dr. James Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and Humbert Humbert in the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.[citation needed]

A naive narrator is one who is so ignorant and inexperienced that he/she actually exposes the faults and issues of his/her world. It is used particularly in satire, in situations where the user can draw more inferences about the narrator’s environment than the narrator. Child narrators can also fall under this category.

Epistolary voice

Main article: Epistolary novel

The epistolary narrative voice uses a 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 famous example is Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein which is a single story written in a letter. Another is Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, which tells the story in a series of diary entries 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 it 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 (though 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 DeadNathaniel Hawthorne‘s Young Goodman Brown, or the elderly fisherman inHemingway‘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 twentieth century. In contrast to the broad, sweeping perspectives seen in many nineteenth-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.

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’mode tells a story without describing any character’s thoughts, opinions, or feelings; instead it gives an objective, unbiased point of view. This point of view 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. 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.

The third-person objective is preferred in most pieces that are deliberately trying to take a neutral or unbiased view, like in many newspaper articles. It 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-twentieth century by French novelists writing in thenouveau roman tradition.

Third-person, omniscient

Main article: Third-person omniscient narrative

Historically, the third-person omniscient perspective has been the most commonly used; it is seen in countless classic novels, including works by Jane AustenLeo Tolstoy, and George Eliot. This is a tale told from the point of view of a storyteller who plays no part in the story but knows all the facts, including the characters’ thoughts. 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 most reliable narrator, or in any case, the narrator least capable of being unreliable—although the omniscient narrator can have its own personality, offering judgments and opinions on the behavior of the 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 that it can create more distance between the audience and the story, and that—when used in conjunction with a sweeping, epic “cast of thousands” story—characterization is more limited, which can reduce the reader’s identification with or attachment to 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 novel. However, as demonstrated by Isabel Allende‘s The House of the Spirits, this mode can capture huge sweeping stories (such as the political history of Chile, a major element of the novel) while also maintaining the reader’s intimacy with certain key characters. Ann Patchett‘s Bel Canto also illustrates how this mode can be used to tell a complicated story involving dozens of characters while maintaining intimacy with the key characters.

Some make the distinction between the third-person omniscient and the universal omniscient, the difference being that in universal omniscient, the narrator reveals information that the characters do not have. This is also called “Little Did He Know” writing, as in, “Little did he know he’d be dead by morning.” Usually, the universal omniscient enforces the idea of the narrator being unconnected to the events of the story.

Some more modern examples are Lemony SnicketJames Eugene Robinson in his novel, The Flower of Grass, and Philip Pullman. In some unusual cases, the reliability and impartiality of the narrator may in fact be as suspect as in the third person limited.

Narrative tense

The narrative tense or narrative time determines the grammatical tense of the story; whether in the past, present, or future.

Past tense

The most common in literature and story-telling; the events of the plot occurred sometime before the current moment or the time at which the narrative was constructed or expressed to an audience. (e.g. “They were going home. They had found their way and were ready to celebrate.”)

Present tense

The events of the plot occur or are occurring now—at the current moment—in real-time. (e.g. “They go home. They find their way and are ready to celebrate.”)

Future tense

Extremely rare in literature; the events of the plot will occur soon or eventually; often, these upcoming events are described in a way that makes it seem like the narrators uncannily know (or believe they know) the future. Some future-tense stories have a prophetic feel. (e.g. “They will be going home. They will have found their way and will be ready to celebrate.”)

Other narrative modes

Fiction-writing mode

Narration has more than one meaning. In its broadest sense, narration encompasses all forms of story-telling, fictional or not; personal anecdotes, “true crime,” and historical narratives all fit here, along with many other “non-fiction” forms. More narrowly, however, “narration” refers to all written fiction. Finally, in its most restricted sense, narration is the fiction-writing mode whereby the narrator communicates directly to the reader.

Along with expositionargumentation, and descriptionnarration (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, 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. [3]

Other types and uses

Main article: Narrator

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 former being a character’s own, and the latter being the more familiar “general” camera showing a scene. The second-person may also be used.

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 of3D 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 he is seeing and doing. This practice is also encountered occasionally in text-based segments of graphical games.