Narration

Narration is the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience.[1] Narration encompasses a set of techniques through which the creator of the story presents their story, including:

  • Narrative point of view[2]: the perspective (or type of personal or non-personal "lens") through which a story is communicated
  • Narrative voice[2]: the format through which a story is communicated
  • Narrative time: the grammatical placement of the story's time-frame in the past, the present, or the future.

A narrator is a personal character or a non-personal voice that the creator (author) of the story develops to deliver information to the audience, particularly about the plot. In the case of most written narratives (novels, short stories, poems, etc.), the narrator typically functions to convey the story in its entirety. The narrator may be a voice devised by the author as an anonymous, non-personal, or stand-alone entity; as the author as a character; or as some other fictional or non-fictional character appearing and participating within their own story. The narrator is considered participant if he/she is a character within the story, and non-participant if he/she is an implied character or an omniscient or semi-omniscient being or voice that merely relates the story to the audience without being involved in the actual events. Some stories have multiple narrators to illustrate the storylines of various characters at the same, similar, or different times, thus allowing a more complex, non-singular point of view.

Narration encompasses not only who tells the story, but also how the story is told (for example, by using stream of consciousness or unreliable narration). In traditional literary narratives (such as novels, short stories, and memoirs), narration is a required story element; in other types of (chiefly non-literary) narratives, such as plays, television shows, video games, and films, narration is merely optional.

Narrative point of view

Narrative point of view or narrative perspective describes the position of the narrator, that is, the character of the storyteller, in relation to the story being told.[3] It can be thought of as a camera mounted on the narrator's shoulder that can also look back inside the narrator's mind.

First-person

With the first-person point of view, a story is revealed through a narrator who is also explicitly a character within his or her own story. In a first person narrative, the narrator can create a close relationship between the reader and the writer.[4] Therefore, the narrator reveals the plot by referring to this viewpoint character with forms of "I" (i.e., the narrator is a person who openly acknowledges his or her own existence) or, when part of a larger group, "we". Frequently, the narrator is the protagonist, whose inner thoughts are expressed to the audience, even if not to any of the other characters. A conscious narrator, as a human participant of past events, is an incomplete witness by definition, unable to fully see and comprehend events in their entirety as they unfurl, not necessarily objective in their inner thoughts or sharing them fully, and furthermore may be pursuing some hidden agenda. Forms include temporary first-person narration as a story within a story, wherein a narrator or character observing the telling of a story by another is reproduced in full, temporarily and without interruption shifting narration to the speaker. The first-person narrator can also be the focal character.

Second-person

The second-person point of view is a point of view where the audience is made a character. This is done with the use of the pronouns "you", "your", and "yours." The narrator is trying to address the audience, not necessarily directly, but rather to administer more of a connection. Stories and novels in second person are comparatively rare. Examples include the short fiction of Lorrie Moore and Junot Díaz. An example in contemporary literature is Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, in which the second-person narrator is observing his life from a distance as a way to cope with a trauma he keeps hidden from readers for most of the book.[citation needed]

"You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy." —Opening lines of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984)

Third-person

In the third-person narrative mode, characters are referred to by the narrator as "he", "she", or "they", but never as "I" or "we" (first-person), or "you" (second-person). This makes it clear that the narrator is an unspecified entity or uninvolved person who conveys the story and is not a character of any kind within the story, or at least is not referred to as such.[5]

Traditionally, third-person narration is the most commonly used narrative mode in literature. It does not require that the narrator's existence be explained or developed as a particular character, as with a first-person narrator. It thus allows a story to be told without detailing any information about the teller (narrator) of the story. Instead, a third-person narrator is often simply some disembodied "commentary" or "voice", rather than a fully developed character. Sometimes, third-person narration is called the "he/she" perspective.[6]

The third-person modes are usually categorized along two axes. The first is the subjectivity/objectivity axis, with third person subjective narration describing one or more character's personal feelings and thoughts, and third person objective narration not describing the feelings or thoughts of any characters but, rather, just the exact facts of the story. The second axis is the omniscient/limited axis, a distinction that refers to the knowledge held by the narrator. A third person omniscient narrator has, or seems to have, access to knowledge of all characters, places, and events of the story, including any given characters' thoughts; however, a third person limited narrator, in contrast, knows information about, and within the minds of, only a limited number of characters (often just one character). A limited narrator cannot describe anything outside of a focal character's particular knowledge and experiences.

Alternating person

While the tendency for novels (or other narrative works) is to adopt a single point of view throughout the entire novel, some authors have experimented with other points of view that, for example, alternate between different narrators who are all first-person, or alternate between a first- and a third-person narrative perspective. The ten books of the Pendragon adventure series, by D. J. MacHale, switch back and forth between a first-person perspective (handwritten journal entries) of the main character along his journey and the disembodied third-person perspective of his friends back home.[7] Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace provides one character's viewpoint from first-person as well as another character's from third-person limited. Often, a narrator using the first person will try to be more objective by also employing the third person for important action scenes, especially those in which they are not directly involved or in scenes where they are not present to have viewed the events in firsthand. This mode is found in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible.

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is a love story, told in alternating first person. This novel alternates between an art student named Clare, and a librarian named Henry. Henry’s disorder called Chronic-Displacement causes him to be put in the wrong time. He is then put in emotional parts from his past and future, going back and forth in time. In John Green & David Levithans Will Grayson, Will Grayson, this novel rotates between two boys both named Will Grayson. It alternates between both boys telling their part of the story. How they met and how their lives came together then. Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down has four narrators who also, are its main characters. These four characters meet at the top of a tall building known as “the suicide spot” and begin to talk instead of jumping. They then form a group, and continue to meet up.

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