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The Narrator


In the First Person

The simplest narrator is in First Person Voice. 'I' is speaking, and 'I understand only what I can see' so "I can tell you my thoughts, feelings and what I observe.'

This narrator provides a kind of suspense. They can have no idea what any other character is thinking or feeling, and only they can describe what is taking place.

This means that they have to be written well, because, with poor characterisation, no-one is going to listen to them when they tell us the story.

In the Third Person

There are several types of Third Person Narrator:

Not so simple after all.

Third Person Omniscient Narrator

This is a common form of third-person narration in which the teller of the tale, who often appears to speak with the voice of the author himself, assumes an omniscient (all-knowing) perspective on the story being told: diving into private thoughts, narrating secret or hidden events, jumping between spaces and times.

Of course, the omniscient narrator does not therefore tell the reader or viewer everything, at least not until the moment of greatest effect. In other words, the hermeneutic code [witholding information for dramatic effect] is still very much in play throughout such narrations.

Third Person Limited, sometimes Limited Omniscience

Focussing a third-person narration through the eyes of a single character. Even when an author chooses to tell a narrative through omniscient narration, s/he will sometimes (or even for the entire tale) limit the perspective of the narrative to that of a single character, choosing for example only to narrate the inner thoughts of that one character. The narrative is still told in third-person (unlike first-person narration); however, it is clear that it is, nonetheless, being told through the eyes of a single character. A famous example of this form of narration is James Joyce's "The Dead" (in Dubliners). A narrative can also shift among various third-person-limited narrations.

Objective Shot

Reserved for the camera in cinematic treatments of works, An objective treatment of a scene is the most common use of the camera in film and television; we are simply presented with what is before the camera in the entire created world of the narrative. We are not seeing the scene through the perspective of any specific character. The treatment is not subjective.

Third Person

Any story told in the grammatical third person, i.e. without using "I" or "we": "he did that, they did something else." In other words, the voice of the telling appears to be akin to that of the author him- or herself.

How do I choose?

If you write First Person tales the choice is made for you. Me? I like the First Person. It is my preferred mode for creating suspense and drama. You may like Third Person. Maybe I choose First to make my life easier!

Most times your narration will fall into one of these categories naturally, and you will be able to judge after writing what you have done. But you are now empowered, because now you know, to make a conscious choice.

In writing this segment I am grateful for excerpts from an educational paper. Please see Felluga, Dino. "Terms Used by Narratology and Film Theory." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. [last updated 31 January 2011]. Purdue U. [Accessed 2 October 2018].


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