Narrative perspective

The narrative perspective - you determine how much the reader knows

Does the reader experience everything that happens in your novel's world or only what your perspective character sees? Which narrative perspective you write from is one of the key design features of your book. What perspectives are there, how do they affect the reader, and how do you decide what best fits your novel?

Definition: What is narrative perspective?

Narrative perspective refers to the point of view from which a story is told. Depending on which one you choose, the reader has more or less information about the characters, the plot and its background.

In an authorial narrative perspective, the reader also has all the information about the story; in first-person narration, the reader only sees what the perspective character sees and knows his or her feelings and thoughts. The choice of perspective has a great influence on how the novel affects the reader.

What is the difference between author and narrator?

author and narrator are not the same. When you write a novel, you create a fictional narrator from whose point of view the story is told. The simplest way to illustrate this is to use the example of the personal narrative perspective, that is, from the point of view of a character: You as the author know your entire plot and all the characters - but the perspective figure, i.e. the narrator, can only tell the reader what he knows and experiences himself.

What are the narrative perspectives?

A distinction is made between four narrative perspectives: The auctorial, i.e. omniscient narrative perspective, the personal narrative perspective, the first-person narrator and the neutral narrative perspective.

The authorial narrative perspective

The term is derived from the Latin word "auctor" and can be translated as author or reporter. The auctorial or omniscient narrator knows the plot and characters and can accordingly explain the inner life of the characters or their relationships. This point of view makes it possible to comment on events in the plot, to evaluate them, to anticipate them or to narrate them in retrospect. For the reader, this means that he or she takes on an outside perspective together with the narrator and knows more than the individual characters.

If you choose the authorial narrative perspective, make sure ...

  • ... not to overload the reader with information right at the beginning of the novel.
  • ... the Voltage by the narrator not foreshadowing events too early.
  • ... which narrative style do you choose: critical and commentary, light-hearted or neutral? The narrator's attitude is often automatic, depending on whether you want to write a critical social novel or a light-hearted light novel.

The personal narrative perspective

The personal narrator takes the point of view of one or more characters in the novel. In contrast to the authorial narrator, he is part of the action. He can only reflect what the perspective character experiences, thinks and feels. He can only speculate about the behavior of other characters. He does not know their inner lives or motivations, or only when they express them. Here, the reader also takes a perspective from the inside and can thus immerse himself deeply in the story.

If you decide to use a personal narrator for your novel, you should ...

  • ... know very well the character from whose point of view the story is told. An character sheet can help you plausibly state your motivations and actions.
  • ... in the course of the writing process, always pay attention to what the character can know in order to avoid an unintentional switch to the authorial narrative perspective.

The first person narrator

A first-person narrative is easy to recognize: It is written in the first person singular, that is, in "I." Within the narrative perspective, a distinction is made between the "narrating I", who tells the story in retrospect, and the "experiencing I", who is currently experiencing it.

The "experiencing I" can only reflect what is happening, what it thinks about it and feels at that moment. Like the personal narrator, he can only speculate about the thoughts or opinions of other characters.

The "narrating I", on the other hand, reports on events that have already passed and can therefore evaluate or comment on them or withhold events or experiences from the reader - just as an authorial narrator can do.

If you want to write your story as a first-person narrator, you should ...

  • ... know the character who narrates very well in terms of their motivations, desires, goals and motives.
  • ... avoid too frequent changes between the experiencing and the narrating I, so as not to get bogged down and confuse the reader.

The neutral narrative perspective

Neutral means that the narrator relates the events like a kind of uninvolved and invisible observer. He is neither part of the story, nor does he comment on or judge the events. Neutral narration is best evident in scenic representations, in which the reader is presented only with the statements and actions of the characters, but is not given any insight into their thoughts and motivations.

A prominent example of the neutral narrative perspective is the USA trilogy by John Dos Passos, published in the 1930s. In the second part of the trilogy, "1919", among others, Dos Passos "zooms in" on events and characters to the reader like a camera. His writing technique therefore became known as "camera eye".

Among literary scholars, the neutral narrative perspective is controversial. Critics argue that a narrator always evaluates by choosing what or who is described. Accordingly, a narrator can never be neutral.

If you decide to use the neutral narrative perspective, you should be aware that ...

  • ... it is a demanding narrative perspective for which you are expected to master scenic presentation.
  • ... in contrast to authorial or personal narration, you have to use completely different stylistic devices to evaluate events. For example, fictional newspaper articles or photos, statements by other fictional or real people, etc.

What narrative perspective should I choose as a writer?

Which narrative perspective best suits your story depends entirely on what you want to tell. Are you interested in bringing a character's inner motivations and desires to the fore? Then the personal or first-person perspective is the best choice. If you want to critically comment on, question or evaluate events, you should choose the authorial narrative perspective.

It can also depend on the genre you're writing in. For example, for a romance novel, it can be valuable to use the first-person or personal narrative perspective to portray the longing desires and emotions of the main character in love. Or you might alternate between the perspectives of two people in love, showing their respective thoughts and feelings. A Thriller may need a different narrative perspective than a Biography or a Children's book.

In extensive narratives, such as fantasy or historical novels, an authorial narrator is usually found. Because many details about the fantasy setting or the historical context need to be explained, or because there are many characters who have a significant role in the overall event.

The better you know the standards and characteristics of the genre you're writing in, the more intuitively you'll choose your narrative perspective. In any case, there are no rules within the genre. If you're unsure, try a few scenes in different perspectives to find the one that best fits your story.

Conclusion

Which narrative perspective you choose will affect the reading experience. Therefore, think about the position you want the narrator, and thus the reader, to take in your novel. Are you interested in the internal view of a character or do you want to comment and evaluate from the outside? You can find examples of the different narrative perspectives at wordgrowth.net.

Don't make a science of it, just try a few perspectives and decide on the one that suits you best or fits your genre. Narrative perspective is just one of many creative tools in writing. For example, to develop your plot and characters, you can use the Snowflake Method help. This will help you get to know the protagonists and see how they interact in the course of the plot - another way to determine who is suitable as a perspective character.by

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