Who’s Narrating Your Story?

Broadly speaking, the text of a piece of prose can be divided into two parts: the dialogue (the words the characters say to each other) and the narrative (the other words which describe all the stuff that’s happening). I’ll maybe talk about dialogue another day (in fact, I already have) but for now I want to talk about narration; or, to be more precise, the narrator. Just who is it that’s telling your story?

‘Well…’ I hear you tentatively cry. ‘It is I, the author, who tells the story… right?’

Sort of.

When we talk about the narrator, what we are referring to the perspective from which the story is being told. This may be a character in the story or it may be a nameless outsider. But whenever we read a portion of narrative, we’re hearing somebody’s voice, even if it is just a voice you, the author, have chosen for yourself.

Choosing the right narrative voice for your story is no marginal issue. It deserves serious consideration. An omniscient narrator, who knows everything but has no personal interest in the events described will tell a story in an entirely different way from one of the central characters.

So, how do you choose? As the author, you can (and probably should) experiment with a few different styles of narration to see what works, but let’s have a look at a few of your options to get you started:

First Person Narrative

This is a story in which the narrator is a specific character (not necessarily the protagonist) who tells the story from their own perspective, using pronouns like ‘me’ and ‘I’ to describe this character. For instance, Stephen King’s The Green Mile is told from the perspective of the protagonist, Paul Edgecomb.

Benefits: It’s a great way to garner the audience’s sympathy for a particular character, especially if you’re wanting the audience to sympathise heavily with a character besides the protagonist.

Drawbacks: A first person narrator cannot give us first-hand information about events they did not personally witness. You have to work within the confines of that one characters perceptions from start to finish.

Tip: When using first person, voice is more important than ever. Be sure to write using only the kinds of vocabulary and turns of phrase you would expect that character to use. Also be sure to let that character’s beliefs, biases and interpretations of events shine through in the narrative.

Second Person Narrative

This is a story in which you, the reader, are referred to as a character in the story. This is quite rare in prose, though not unheard of. For instance: “With his head cocked on the pillow and his hair combed just so, you couldn’t see where his brother conked him, and Eric, for his part, went easy, even came to the funeral in irons and his Sunday suit” (Stewart O’Nan, A Prayer for the Dying, emphasis mine).

Benefits: It has the potential to draw your reader into the story in an unusual and interesting way.

Drawbacks: Unless you’re writing a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style story, it has the potential to seem pretentious if it is not executed with skill. Additionally, if the “you” character behaves differently to how your audience is inclined behave, you may end up undermining the effect you seek to create.

Tip: Ask yourself honestly why you’re using this. If it makes your story work, great. Do it with my blessing. But if you’re just doing it to be a smart Alec, reconsider.

Third Person (Omniscient)

The story is told from the point of view of an all-knowing, all-seeing outside observer, referring to characters only by name or with pronouns like ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’; never ‘I’, ‘you’ or ‘we’. In this style of narration, the narrator knows everything there is to know about the story, and the audience can therefore be made privy to the thoughts, actions and feelings of every character.

Benefits: You can share whatever facts with your audience that you see fit. We can see the villains, scheming in their lair in one scene and in the next, see the protagonist flirting with the love-interest, all the while being privy to both characters’ thoughts.

Drawbacks: Too much information can rob a story of intrigue. In addition, this style of narration will not easily draw the reader into the plight of a particular character, since the action is all observed from a safe distance.

Tip: Try not to go overboard with the internal dialogues describing each character’s thoughts. These can become cumbersome, especially if they’re happening parallel to proper dialogue. Also, be sure to favour those characters you want your audience to sympathise with. Just because a narrator knows everything doesn’t mean they have to share everything.

Third Person (Limited)

The story is told by an outside observer but unlike ‘third person (omniscient)’, the narrator does not know everything. Instead they follow the comings and goings of one character in particular (usually the protagonist) and are privy only to his/her thoughts and feelings.

Benefits: This style of narrative allows you the freedom of a third person narrator while still garnering a lot of the audience sympathy you can generate using first person narrative. It also allows you to protect the audience from learning too much information too quickly (this is especially useful in mysteries, etc).

Drawbacks: It can be tempting to let slip something a second character is thinking.

Tip: A third person limited narrator is like a little stalker, following your protagonist around and reporting everything he does, thinks and feels. He’s too busy stalking your protagonist to stalk anyone else.

Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is one whose credibility is in doubt. It may be that they are being deliberately deceptive or it may be that they are simply mistaken in their interpretation of the facts. They may be trying to impose their own particular biases on the audiences. The narrator could also be a young child trying to explain complex, adult scenarios they they have become involved in but don’t fully understand. Whatever the reason, the story is conveyed in such a way that the audience has to think twice about taking the narrator’s every word as gospel. These are usually first person narratives.

Benefits: This style of narrative can be thoroughly engrossing and can leave your audience pondering the events of your story long after they’ve stopped reading it.

Drawbacks: It can also confuse your reader to death if the truth of your story is kept too obscure. Furthermore if the audience never suspects the unreliability of your narrator, they might end up believing something you had intended them to doubt.

Tip: Don’t have the narrator telling a pack of bald-faced lies only to confess the truth on the last page. That will just annoy the audience. Instead, subtly introduce the audience to the narrator’s biases, incapacities, delusions or errors early on, thus sowing doubt in the audience’s mind.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what narrates your story.

Until next time!

ARE YOU AN AUTHOR?

I’m looking for authors (especially, but not limited to, new and/or indie authors) whose work I can feature here on Penstricken over the coming year. It will simply take the form of a quick Q&A about yourself and your work via private message or e-mail and, of course, a link to where we can all get a copy of your work.

I’m open to interviewing authors of almost any kind of story, provided your work is complete, original and of course, fictional. I will not consider individual short stories/micro-fictions, however I am happy to feature published anthologies or entire blog-sites of micro-fiction, provided you are the sole author.

If you’re interested, or want to know more, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

100 Word Story: Popping Off

It’s time I subjected you all to another one of my under-performing flash fictions I nevertheless believe in. I actually had quite high hopes for this one and submitted it to a couple of places in hopes of publication but no cigar as they say in Cuba. But that’s what blogs are for!

As ever, what follows here is entirely my own work and has not been published anywhere else in the world, whether on print or online, nor do I expect it to be. And so, without further ado, I give you…

Popping Off

by A. Ferguson

My family have a curse. One hour before death, we become omniscient. Foreknowledge, insight, everything. Can you imagine?

I’m at the office and it’s happening to me now. I’m only thirty-one.

Imagine that.

I should phone Janice, but when I think how she badgered dad with questions at his Hour…

Stuff it. I’ll write her. Might as well use up the office stationary.

‘Jan,

Saturday’s lotto numbers:  4, 7, 12, 22, 34, 36, 5.

You’re welcome.

Nick’

I need to post this quick. I’ll be out of time soon.

‘Kate, family emergency.’ I call to my supervisor. ‘Can I pop off early?’

THE END


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what pops your clogs.

Until next time!

ARE YOU AN AUTHOR?

I’m looking for authors (especially, but not limited to, new and/or indie authors) whose work I can feature here on Penstricken over the coming year. It will simply take the form of a quick Q&A about yourself and your work via private message or e-mail and, of course, a link to where we can all get a copy of your work.

I’m open to interviewing authors of almost any kind of story, provided your work is complete, original and of course, fictional. I will not consider individual short stories/micro-fictions, however I am happy to feature published anthologies or entire blog-sites of micro-fiction, provided you are the sole author.

If you’re interested, or want to know more, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

Novelist: A Handy App for Planning Your Novel

I have always said that to write a novel, or any significantly sized piece of writing, a writer must be willing to park himself down at his computer and write. There is no quick fix for writing. No easy button you can tap on your phone and make a high quality novel pop out.

I still believe that. But that’s not to say mobile apps can’t help you in your quest to write a story, especially when you’re on the go and need a simple, orderly means of gathering together all those little plot bunnies that jump into your head at the worst possible moments. For that reason, I’ve been trying out a nice little app I discovered on Google Play called Novelist by Alessandro Riperi.

novelist (4)

the home page

Is it a good app? Yeah, I would say it is. It won’t make your breakfast for you and it certainly won’t make you the next John Steinbeck, but it has all the basic functionality needed to help you get you from a plot bunny to a complete chapter outline with little fuss.

Let’s look at a few of its features.

The first thing you will get when you open the app for the first time is a little spiel explaining how to use the app. After that, you go straight to the home page and — as far as I can tell — you never get the little introductory lecture again. The home page itself is a pretty self-explanatory window displaying all of your projects (which you can illustrate with an image from your device’s memory, if you’re that way inclined), including a pre-loaded ‘tutorial’ project which you can edit and tinker with to your heart’s content (don’t worry! If you make a total mess of the tutorial project, it’s easy to generate a new one from the menu on the home screen).

Once you create a project, the app takes you through three stages: ‘plotting’, ‘outlining’ and ‘organising’, apparently with the idea that you work through these three stages in order.

LordDeathmetadata

An example character profile using metadata.

Under ‘plotting’, we have a space to create all those elements which are fundamental to story-writing: characters, locations (settings), themes, key events and so forth. These are referred to as ‘items’ in this app, which are easy to customise with a title, synopsis, text and images as you see fit. All of these items can be tagged, duplicated and shifted from one category to another. Best of all, each of these items comes with the option of including metadata, allowing you to quickly list all the vital details of your character, setting or theme. You can also add ‘notes’ and ‘text’ to each item, though I must admit I’m a little fuzzy on why these are separate features.

Under the ‘planning’ tab, you are invited to organise your story into scenes. You create new scenes in a similar way to how you create items in the plotting section, with a title and a synopsis. As before, you have the ability to add text or notes to each scene, however you do not have the ability to add images or metadata. What you can do is tag your scenes with the items you created in the plotting stage; not a feature I personally find useful because that’s just not the way my brain works but I know it will suit plenty of other writers down to the ground.

Finally, the ‘organising’ section allows you to organise the scenes you have created into chapters/sections as you see fit. The order of these scenes and sections can be easily jiggled about until you are happy that you have a full-blown chapter layout. The only real drawback here is that you can’t see any of the details about the scenes you created in this section apart from their titles and synopses. Apart from that, it makes it an absolute joy to organise and re-organise the order of your sections, chapters and scenes.

 

There’s something else I love about this app: it’s free. Okay, I know that’s not technically a feature but still… it’s an actual, truly, honestly to goodness full version that’s absolutely free. Not ‘free, but hey, we’ve got a better version that’s not free’; not ‘free for the first thirty days’; not even ‘free as long as you tell us where you live and watch a bunch of ads’. In fact, I haven’t even seen any ads! It’s just FREE. I am so happy I could weep.

In summery, if you’re looking for an app to write your manuscript on, this isn’t it. I don’t think it was ever meant to be used for that purpose. But if you own an Android device and are looking for a clean and simple way to develop an idea into a fully fledged chapter outline, including character profiles and all that other marvellous stuff that planners love so much, this app is definitely worth a look. It’s free, easy to use and covers all the story-planning essentials without forcing you to watch any pesky little ads. Go and get it!

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what outlines your novel.

Until next time!

ARE YOU AN AUTHOR?

I’m looking for authors (especially, but not limited to, new and/or indie authors) whose work I can feature here on Penstricken over the coming year. It will simply take the form of a quick Q&A about yourself and your work via private message or e-mail and, of course, a link to where we can all get a copy of your work.

I’m open to interviewing authors of almost any kind of story, provided your work is complete, original and of course, fictional. I will not consider individual short stories/micro-fictions, however I am happy to feature published anthologies or entire blog-sites of micro-fiction, provided you are the sole author.

If you’re interested, or want to know more, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.