Monday, October 13, 2014

The Author's Craft: A Book's Narrator

"The point of view an author selects for telling their story makes a significant difference in how that story unfolds, and whether or not it works."


I contemplate the point of view for each story I write. Though my stories often start from the character, the way in which the character tells me their story leads me. It determines who my narrator will be, whether the tale will be told in first or third person and which type of narrator they will speak as. Each of these components changes how the story is revealed to readers.

The types of narrators are very different from one another. Here's the basics:

  • The omniscient narrator knows everything that is happening and has access to the thoughts of all the characters. Some describe the omniscient narrator as the storyteller’s voice.
  • The objective narrator relates a story without entering the head of any of the characters.
  • The limited narrator speaks as each character in sequence, only relaying information that is known by one character within a scene.
  • The unreliable narrator is the subjective point of view of a single character. For obvious reasons, the narrator cannot be relied on for accuracy but is useful to reach deep into an individual character's mind.

Choosing the type of narrator to use cannot be an arbitrary decision. It alters the dynamic of the story. I often decide the narrator prior to even beginning a book, or a series, but sometimes I've stopped midway in the manuscript only to realize I've been writing in the wrong point of view. I find the decision of WHO will tell the story simple. It's the choice between the omniscient, limited or unreliable narrator that proves difficult.

Omniscient Narrator
Done in the third-person, the omniscient narrator is a common choice. I've used the omniscient
narrator in the Seven Sin Sisters series wherein I have many characters introduced and in each book, I want to provide no less than two characters' points of view. Readers can view their world from multiple angles.

The difficulty in this narration? The writer must be cautious the shifts between the different points of view. The most accepted approach is to maintain a single point of view per scene. The most common complaint of reviewers is when writers jump between different characters’ heads. The transition from one character's point of view to another has to be signaled effectively. This is where my beta readers are a great help!

The Unreliable Narrator
Done most often in the first-person, but possible in the third-person, the unreliable narrator can be a powerful storytelling tool. I've used the unreliable narrator in the Heart & Soul series so readers
would experience the character's journey as if in her place. I intended for readers to know what Aubrey knew, whether her understanding was right or wrong. This allowed readers to have the same experience she did.

The difficulty in this narration? There is far more difficulty in writing this style, in my opinion, though I admit to it being my favorite. Writers must convey to the reader that the narrator is unreliable without the character itself knowing this. Writers must only present that which the narrator is aware, limiting the observations and opinions greatly.

What type of narrator is best?
There is no best narrator, though the story will determine which type of narrator will work best. Each reader, and each writer, will have their personal favorite. What's yours?
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