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How to Identify Narrative Style in Literature


A narrator is the person or persona within a work of literature that conveys the plot and story to the reader. Recognizing narrative style can help you analyze and interpret a novel, short story or poem to uncover its underlying meaning and purpose. Follow these steps to identify and define narrative style.

Notice if the story seems to be told from the perspective of one, central character and with a limited point of view. Look for the words "I' or "we". This is first-person narration. Authors use this form to focus on how one person views the events of the story, the world around them and others. It's often used in detective fiction and mystery novels.

Detect objective third-person narration by looking for a general, basic perspective on the events of the work. Third-person narrative style does not let the reader into the mind or feelings of any one character and presents the events and characters in an objective way.

Identify the narrative style of a work as third-person omniscient when the narrator relates the thoughts and feelings of many or all characters. An omniscient narrator will present the story in a broad view and move through different perspectives. This narrator is seemingly all-knowing. It is a common style and delivers a much more panoramic view of the story.

Look for clues of an unreliable narrator such as blatant, untrue statements, the claim to be mentally ill and delusional and elements of the story that suggest the narrator may have a distorted or biased point-of-view. Often, the idea of an unreliable narrator is only alluded to, forcing you to constantly question how trustworthy he or she is. Authors use unreliable narrators as a literary device in their work to convey meaning and they are ripe for literary analysis.

Tip
  • Many authors break from standard form and use a combination of narrative styles or multiple narrators. In this instance, it's helpful to recognize which narrator seems to be most reliable and examine why the author chose this particular style.
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