The Effects of Narrative Perspective

Narrative perspective is another term for narrative mode. Authors use narrators to tell stories to audiences. A narrator provides insight into the thoughts and emotions of characters in a story. Several common narrative modes, or perspectives, are employed by authors to create tension in stories. Common narrative perspectives include first person narrator, second person narrator, third person narrator and multiple narrators. Each mode delivers the story in a different way, giving readers more and sometimes less access to the motivations behind characters' actions.

First Person Narrative Perspective

First person narrative perspective is told in the first-person voice. It draws the reader into the story through the perspective of story's main character who becomes the lens through which the entire story is told. The first person narrative uses the pronouns "I" and "me" exclusively. While it can be used effectively, it limits the storyteller's perspective to what the narrator knows. "It was a hot summer night. Crickets chirped. Stars shone. The fire crackled. I stared across the flames at Janie and wondered what she was feeling" is an example of first person narrative. The use of first person narrative perspective is engaging and yet limits readers from knowing what is going on inside Janie's head in the scene.

Second Person Narrative Perspective

The second person narrative perspective is a far less commonly employed narrative technique. This perspective uses the pronoun "you" exclusively. The second person perspective is cumbersome and awkward for works of fiction because it narrates the emotions of the audience to them. However, it works well for self-help books or works where the author wants to speak directly to the readers about themselves. Poems may also employ the second person perspective powerfully, especially poems written directly to another person such as an ex-lover. "After you've mastered the art of giving your speech in front of your bathroom mirror, it's time to begin speaking in front of others. Deliver your remarks to a family member or close friend to begin to conquer your fear of public speaking" is an example of a second person narrative perspective.

Third Person Narrative Perspective

A third person narrative perspective creates distance between the narrator and the characters in the story he tells. A third person perspective tells a story about someone else; the narrator is not involved. This perspective is uses proper names as well as "he," "she" and "they." A third person narrator can be omniscient, meaning he knows all and sees all about everything going on in a story. Or, a third person narrator can be limited. A limited third person narrator uses "he," "she" and "they" but is limited in his knowledge of what characters think and feel.

A limited perspective can be used effectively to build tension for the reader who wants to know more about the characters and the unfolding story. The challenge with an omniscient third person narrative perspective is to maintain a balance between revealing and hiding information about characters and their actions so that the audience remains engaged and interested in the story's plot development.

"He set the bloody knife down on the nightstand, his fingers still trembling. 'My God, what have I just done?' he thought" is an example of third person narrative perspective.

Multiple Narrative Perspective

Multiple narrative perspective is a powerful and effective narrative mode. Multiple narrators are used to tell one story. A common multiple narrative perspective is to choose multiple characters to tell the story in first person mode.

For example, a story about an American missionary family living in a foreign country can be told powerfully by setting the mother, father and children as narrators.

Care must be taken not to confuse the reader, making it clear who is speaking at any given time, but the multiple narrative perspective can add depth and nuance to a story by telling it through the eyes of characters who differ in age, gender and disposition.

An easy way to avoid confusing readers is to specify one narrator for each chapter of a story, switching narrators each chapter.

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