Did you know the word “narrator” is approximately 400 years old? In the 1600s, people used the term to define a person who tells a story.

Later, in the 1900s, the word began to acquire other meanings, and people began to use the word to refer to the person who narrated a sports match. Now, in literature, a narrator is one of the most essential tools you will use as an author.

Most of the time, when we start writing a novel, we will focus on the characters or the plot. It’s understandable since both of those elements are extensive and require a lot of concentration. However, I have never encountered a writer (a beginner writer, at least) who thought about the type of narrator first. And if you are one of those who focus way more on the plot, I don’t blame you!

Now, I’m here to tell you that the narrator is something you should pay attention to for the sake of your story. Believe it or not, how good a piece of writing is, will be seen through the narrator and how the author uses it.

So, what exactly is a narrator? The narrator is the voice in a text that the author creates with a goal: to describe the facts and events in the story to the reader. It can be a main character, a secondary character, or neither of those. Without it, there’s no story.

Sometimes people think the author is the same as the narrator, but that’s not true. While the author writes, the narrator brings the story to life, and we, as readers, see the story through the narrator’s eyes. In simpler words, the author and the narrator are not the same, and we should never mistake those two.

Then, an author is a person. It has a personality and opinions, but those don’t necessarily have to be related to the narrator of a story. As Margaret Atwood once said: “(…) You can’t, obviously, be all of the narrators in all of your books, or else you’d be a very strange person indeed.

Why Choosing The Perfect Type of Narrator is Important for Your Story?

Whether it is a poem, a novel, or a short story, we need a narrator. For the same reason, the narrator is essential because it represents the tool the reader will have to imagine a new reality, and without an adequate narrator, the reader will sense something is missing from your text.

Therefore, a narrator is also crucial because they tell the story according to the information they have. Sure, your narrator presents the facts to the reader, but the narrator can also hide or twist them in their way.

It’s your job as the author to make sure you choose the best voice for the story you’ll tell.

What Are the Type of Narrators?

Once you understand what a narrator is, it is easier to understand the different types and how you can benefit from using one or another. The most common ones are first-person narrator, second-person narrator, and third-person narrator.

First-person narrator

It’s the type of narrator that tells the reader the story according to what they see and experience. Commonly, the first-person narrator is the main character, and we get to see the world according to how they interact with the environment and the other characters. The first-person narrator uses “I” and “we” pronouns. 

Where can we use the first-person narrator?

First-person narrators work exceptionally well in YA books. For example, in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we see the world through Katniss’s eyes. We learn about her country, Panem, and how she has to survive day by day. This choice of narrator is excellent since we soon understand the situation Katniss finds herself in, and we see her country as she does: a country where only the entertainment of the masses matters, even if it is at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Another type of book that can benefit from a first-person narrative is a memoir since it’s common for the author and the narrator to be the same.

When I first started writing, I found it easier to do it with a first-person narrator. Today, I can’t remember the last time I did creative writing with that kind of narration! In any case, it’s up to you to figure out what voice you’re most comfortable writing in, and whether or not your story benefits from it.

Second-person narrator

Completely different from the first-person narrator, the second-person narrator addresses the reader through “you”. For that same reason, it is a type of narrator that is rare in literature, as it breaks the fourth wall and usually involves the reader in decision-making.

Where can we use the second-person narrator?

There are a few examples of fiction books with a second-person narrator. Some include If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino and Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor. With the narrator constantly breaking the boundaries between fiction and reality, this type of storytelling allows the reader to feel part of the story, making these works memorable.

However, it is challenging to do this right, so most fiction writers prefer not to use the second-person narrator and stick with the first and third-person narrator. Some instances where you might benefit from writing in the second person could be in epistolary genre books, where characters communicate through letters.  Another genre that benefits from the second-person narrator is self-help books.

Personally, I have never considered writing a story with this type of narrator! If I did, it would probably be with an epistolary novel.

Third-person narrator

The third-person narrator is the type of narrator who is not involved in the story. Consequently, to talk about the characters in the story, the narrator uses the pronouns “he” or “she”.

What are the types of third-person narrators?

Among these are: Third-person limited narrator, third-person omniscient narrator, and third-person objective narrator.

  1. Third-person limited narrator. It’s the type of third-person narrator that relies on what’s being said and done by the characters. In simpler words, the narrator can’t comment on anything that happens outside what the characters already know. Sometimes, this narrator follows a specific character through the story, and it’s a narrator that can work very well in thrillers and mysteries.

An example of this is A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, where we get the point of view of different characters in each chapter, but with a third-person narrator.

At first it may be tedious, but as the story progresses, you will realize that this type of narration makes you learn everything that happens within the narrative and from the different points of view of the characters.

  1. Third-person omniscient narrator. This narrator is still a third-person narrator, meaning they will use “he” and “she” as pronouns. However, it’s omniscient since it knows everything that is happening in-universe. Thus, it can describe and comment on the characters and their thoughts, even events the characters do not know of.

An example is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, where the third-person narrator comments on the characters’ personalities and decisions. Also, being a romance book, it is helpful because the narrator lets us know the emotions of each character as the story unfolds.

  1. Third-person objective narrator. It is a type of narrator rarely used in literature since it is an objective narrator that does not offer any extra information about the characters and events occurring in the story. As a result, it’s a type of narrator that will only tell what is happening and nothing else.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is a famous example of this type of narrator. Despite using this style, critics have praised this book because the objectivity of the narration allows the reader to draw their conclusions about what is happening without being influenced, letting them make connections on their own.

Of the three types of third-person narrator, my favorite is the limited narrator. It allows us to know what the characters think without being a first-person narrator and without overloading the reader with information, as could happen with the omniscient narrator. Do you have a favorite yet? 

Tips for Choosing The Perfect Type of Narrator for Your Story

Choosing the right narrator should be one of your main concerns. Yet, how the art of writing works makes it sometimes difficult to think of the narrator right from the start. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we get an idea, and we write. And then, without noticing, we already have a narrator.

Although we sometimes do it without realizing it, choosing the wrong type of narrator can cost you more than one reader. Here are some tips on how to choose the perfect point of view narrator:

Ask yourself how much info you want your reader to know

When deciding what type of narrator your story should have, you have to ask yourself how you will tell the information to your reader and if this is going to be as the narrator knows it or not.

Ask yourself if you need multiple points of view or not

Also related to the last tip, you need to ask yourself how many points of view you need for your story to work. In fiction, this number could range from one person to multiple. Multiple points of view might benefit from third-person narrators, while if the basis of your story is only one or two main characters, you could have a first-person narrator.

In some cases, it can be challenging to change points of view, but it’s possible. One famous example is the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, having at least 31 different points of view throughout the series. George achieves this by giving each character time to shine and not rushing it. Besides, he does not change narrators out of a sudden. One of the reasons it works so well is that the ASoIaF universe is quite broad, and the characters are found in different parts of the world and with stories that, although intertwined, have a certain independence due to the events that occur.

Ask yourself if your narrator’s point of view is reliable or not

You can ask yourself two questions:

Maybe you want your reader to have an in-depth connection with the narrator, or your unreliable narrator is part of a plot twist. In those cases, the first-person narrator is best. The third-person narrator works if you want to be objective and don’t mind being a little impersonal.

Ask yourself how you want your narrator to acknowledge your reader

While the primary use of a narrative point of view is to convey information to the reader, the position of the reader and how the narrator addresses the reader is also essential. For example, in second-person narratives, the narrator will refer to the reader with the pronoun “you”. There is a connection that even surpasses the book, as this narrator breaks the fourth wall.

In contrast, in the first- and third-person narration, the narrator does not know the reader. However, first-person narration is still quite personal, as the reader will learn the narrator’s way of seeing the world, feeling his emotions, and knowing his thoughts.

On the other hand, third-person narration is infamous for removing that characteristic of the first-person narrator connection. Still, this narration can be personal when limited to a specific character.

If you don’t mind removing that personal connection so the reader gets a broader view of the universe you’ve created, the third-person narrator will work wonders for you.

Conclusion

Choosing a point-of-view narrator for your story should be as crucial as writing your main character. Some stories will benefit from having a first-person narrator, and others from having a third-person narrator.

I enjoy third-person narrators more when writing, but some of my favorite books are in first-person. If you find it troublesome to choose a narrator, you can always look at some of your favorite books and see how you learn the information in a book. Is it the best narrator the author could have chosen? What would you change? When reading a book as an author, you must be more thorough.

Stephen King once said: “Every book you pick up has its lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.” For example, you can read a book and realize that you don’t like third-person narrators because you enjoy feeling connected to the main character. In contrast, you could also learn that you don’t like first-person narrators because you prefer knowing about different events in a book instead of focusing on just one point of view. 

The more you read, the better you will get at writing, but you will also learn what you would like to have in your stories and what you wouldn’t.

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Happy writing, fellow writers!