Writer Guy’s Tip #3: The Narrative

Okay, a quick recap, before we begin…

So far, you should-

  1. Have a rough idea of the plot, and the primary characters of your story.
  2. Have a fair idea of the setting of your world.
  3. Have not written too much, already, or are willing to rewrite.
  4. Have, most certainly and without fail, read the previous post.

Now, this is the first time I am really urging you to read the previous post, but that is just the nature of the topics. The Plot and the Narrative have to go hand-in-hand…


Well, now we begin…

You see, the narrative, basically, refers to the method or process used to convey the story.

As mentioned earlier, the plot structure and the narrative style are closely linked, as they control the progress of the story, and the tone and the theme of the story are highly dependant on the two. The setting itself remains unaffected.

There are three basic aspects to narration:

  1. Point of View- Basically, who is telling the story
  2. Voice- Basically, how the story is being told
  3. Time- Basically, when is the story being told

Narrative Point of View

First Person:

Here, the narrator is a character within the story, and he narrates the story in his point of view.

He is often the protagonist, or the focal character, like in Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, or someone close to him serving as a viewpoint character, as is the case with Dr. Watson, in Sherlock Holmes.

Using a first person narrative adds a distinct tone to the story, as every event is dependant on the narrator’s perception, and is therefore coloured by his own upbringing, experiences, and knowledge.

However, the narrative is limited to the narrator’s perspective, which can be a drawback.

Also, the inherent biased nature of the narrative makes it somewhat unreliable.

For instance, if a first-person narrator says he saw a ghost, he may or may not have actually seen a ghost…

Of course, these are not in themselves drawbacks…
Wuthering Heights is an unusual example, with its primary narrator, Mr. Lockwood, being a tertiary character who narrates only minor parts of the story, introducing the setting and some of the major characters. Thereafter, the secondary narrator goes into a major flashback, lasting over 25 chapters. Mr. Lockwood then narrates parts of the final three chapters, pretty much serving as an epilogue.

We should probably discuss Wuthering Heights again, and more critically, someday…

Second Person:

Here, the narrator refers to himself as ‘you’. Weird, right?

Does that mean that the narrator is simultaneously also the audience? I am actually not sure.

Examples employing such a style of narrative are rare in English literature, but apparently they are quite common in some languages.

However, some guides and self-help books may fall into this category.

If you wish to learn more, you could read Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. I have not, and I would love to know what you think about it…

Third Person:

Here, the narrator is usually outside the book… Simple… Either that, or the story is simply not about him…

This simplicity gives the writer a great deal of freedom to explore his story, which is why it is the most popularly used style of narrative.

Life, The Universe and Everything is a great example of a book driven by a strong third person narrative.

 

Narrative Voice

Stream-of-consciousness:

Typically used with first-person view, this follows the narrator’s thought process, instead of just actions and words.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter, being the first-person account of the titular character, would fall into this category.

Character Voice:

Widely used in first or third-person views, this style follows the story via the narrative of a character within the story.

The narrative, therefore, may or may not be biased, depending on the character.

Dr. Watson, in Sherlock Holmes, as already discussed, falls into this category.

Epistolary voice:

Here, the story is narrated in the form of letters, diary entries, and such media.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is written as a series of letters.

Third Person Narrative Voice:

These are used solely with third person points of view, and have three prominent sub-styles:

Third Person Objective:

Often referred to as the ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style, here, the narrative only involves actions and reactions. Thoughts, feelings, opinions are not considered, and the narrative is completely unbiased.

This is not very common in modern literature, but is used widely in dramas, TV shows and movies.

Third Person Subjective:

Here, the narration occurs with respect to one or more characters, and takes into consideration their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

A prominent example involving the perspective of a single character is Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea, while George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is characterised by the perspective shifting among several characters.

Third Person Omniscient:

This is the more commonly used narrative style of all…

Basically, here, the narrator knows everything, irrespective of the knowledge of the characters involved.

The narrator knows whatever goes on throughout the world, as well as whatever every character thinks or feels.

The Lord of the Rings use this to great effect, by creating a grand world and using an epic story. However, this also leads to a divide between the readers and the characters…

Unreliable Narrator:

This is a special case wherein a narrator, usually involving a first person character voice, is deemed unreliable.

Upon deep analysis, almost every subjective narrator may be considered unreliable, while the reason and extent of unreliability may vary.

For instance, Dr. Watson is slightly biased, and often portrayed as being somewhat gullible. His opinions and observations can therefore not be entirely reliable, which enable him to be used as an effective foil to the brilliant Mr. Holmes.

Even medical conditions affecting the narrator, may they be as simple as myopia or as major and complex as severe psychosis, could cause unreliability. 

On the other hand, the narrator of this book deliberately misleads the reader, along with the other characters, in order to conceal his own guilt.
The name is not explicitly stated, to avoid spoilers…

Narrative Time

Now, this is probably the aspect that has been explored the least, with a very large majority of literary works being narrated in past tense.

Narrative in present tense is uncommon, with a major example of recent history being The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Such books narrate events and experiences of the narrator in real-time.

Stories narrated as diaries, whether real or fictional, also employ present tense.

Works where the narrative is in future tense are indeed rare. Unless, of course, if we count the promises made by our politicians as works of fiction, as they often are…


Now, these are the basic narrative modes you can use.

However, within your story, you may choose to employ distinct styles for distinct portions of the story, thereby exploiting their benefits as per your requirement.

For example, let us consider The Clocks, by Agatha Christie…

clocks3.jpg

Well, I think that is fairly self-explanatory… And after last week, I did not feel like ending without a single graphic…

Next week, we will look at some interesting cases…

So, this is all for tonight.

Thank you.

 

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Published by

Yashas Mahajan

Author of Arrkaya: Origins, now available online... Increasingly being referred to as The Writer Guy...

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