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The Effects of Narrative Perspective


Choosing a narrative perspective will determine how much of a presence your narrator plays within your story, and can dictate the type of language you use. Your choice of point of view will depend on whether you want the narrator to be a character who exists in the story, or an entity that is independent from the narrative.

Third-Person Omniscient Perspective

The omniscient third-person narrator can occupy the viewpoints of any and all characters in the story. Omniscient narration is a classic narrative mode, and is used frequently in fairy tales and children's stories. Because an omniscient narrator is not a specific character within the story, it can easily remain unnoticed by the reader, as is the case in Raymond Carver's short story, "The Bath." If the narrator's personality is strong, it can draw attention to itself and away from the world of the narrative.

Third-Person Limited Perspective

Third-person limited perspective allows the author to narrate the story from the perspective of one of the characters, but without having to tell the story in the voice of that character. This perspective allows the narrator to use whatever style of language the author pleases, while occasionally employing free indirect discourse: narrating a brief passage in the exact manner of the character as a way to show the character's viewpoint. This technique is used often by Jane Austen, and perhaps most noticeably throughout her well-known work, "Pride and Prejudice."

Third-Person Dramatic Perspective

The dramatic point of view is the only truly neutral perspective in literature. It is a third-person perspective in which the narrator does not inhabit the thoughts of any character, and only reports the events of the world according to what it objectively witnesses, much in the way a movie camera records events an audience experiences a stage play. For example, in Ernest Hemingway's story, "Hills Like White Elephants," the narrator communicates the behaviors of the characters without any emotional influence. It is up to the reader to interpret the significance of what the narrator has reported.

First-Person Perspective

First-person narration brings the reader into direct contact with the narrator's view of the story, and for this reason is the most intimate style of narrative perspective. First-person perspective is purely subjective and leaves the narrator open to criticism for being unreliable. Many writers take advantage of this openness for unreliability, such as renowned storyteller Vladimir Nabokov in his novel, "Lolita." Nabokov lets you experience the story through the eyes of a murderer and pedophile whose voice is made captivating so that it pulls you deeper and deeper into the his dark tale.

Second-Person Perspective

The second-person point of view is the trickiest perspective to employ successfully, as it can become tiresome if not used masterfully. The drawback is that because the narration is addressed directly to the reader, the reader can feel as though he is being told what to do, or what to think. When executed masterfully, it has an effect similar to first-person narration, with the added flavor of being led through the tale as though it were happening to you. Lorrie Moore uses second-person narration effectively in her book, "Self Help."

About the Author

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."

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