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Types of Narrative Techniques


Writers use a number of narrative techniques to impart stories to readers. In one story, a writer may choose to draw upon a variety of these techniques. Some of the more commonly used narrative devices involve point of view and time elements.

First-Person Narratives

First-person narratives cross all genres of literature and are characterized by the writer or a story's character using his own voice to tell the tale. With this technique, the narrator employs the first person by referring to himself as “I,” and is either actively or passively involved in relating the events of the story. The narrator may or may not be privy to whatever action is about to unfold, and he need not be the primary character. For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby,” the story is told by a minor character who plays the role of an observer. Conversely, the story's protagonist may speak to the situation in person, often in a somewhat confessional tone. Mark Twain's “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is a good example of this type of narrative. The first-person narrative technique is especially popular in writing personal diaries or memoirs, dramatic monologues, mystery novels and even “interior monologues,” in which a character essentially has a discussion with herself.

Third-Person Omniscient

With this technique, the author chooses to have the story told by an outside narrator who knows all — hence the term “omniscient.” Third-person narrators refer to characters by name or use common pronouns such as she, he and they. Authors may use third-person narrators to speak to readers directly, although they don't necessarily reveal all they know of the past, present and future. Writers such as Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkien made extensive use of this narrative technique.

Autobiographical Novels

All writers draw from life experiences when crafting a novel, but in the case of the autobiographical novel narrative technique, the majority of the book is a fictionalized telling of the author's life, and the cast of characters often includes his real-life friends who appear with pseudonyms. These writings are sometimes referred to as “semi-autobiographies.” A good example of an autobiographical novel is Jack Kerouac's “On the Road.”

Historical Novels

This genre was developed by Sir Walter Scott, who first set a narrative in the context of historical events. Historical novels often are based on real people from history with some fictional characters and incidents injected into the story. Larry McMurtry's “Lonesome Dove” is a good example of historical fiction, as it is based on the lives of legendary cowboys Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight, though it also includes fictional characters and events.

Other Common Narrative Techniques

Here are a few more frequently used narrative techniques:

Foreshadowing: When an author begins dropping hints about a situation or event that will occur in the future, it is called foreshadowing. Flashbacks: Whenever a character is taken back in time to remember or relive an event, the author is using the flashback technique. Backstory: A backstory adds depth or layers to a tale by attaching the story to an external event, either real or fictional.

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