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The Narrator of the Story

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1 The Narrator of the Story on Tue Jun 23, 2009 2:01 pm

A mention of a narrator and perhaps more so in past times rather than our cold technological age, often conjures up warm images of an old white haired man surrounded by the village children, or of a weather-beaten face of a retired sea-captain in the local inn, both surrounded by awed attentive faces listening in on one fantastic tale after another. This may not occur nowadays but still the role of the narrator as the central point of reference perhaps remains, for after all the narrator is none other than us the story-tellers, the dream-weavers, the dreamers of dreams...

But the purpose of this article is not as much as to the role of such story-tellers, but regarding the narrator of the fictional work itself, the teller of the short-story, novel or other fictional forms. Well you may very well ask, is not the narrator the author himself or herself? Of course that is undeniably quite true but what we are talking about here is who [i:15q2kcyk]appears [/i:15q2kcyk]to be narrating the story from within the narrative itself.

As the very name of 'narrative' so very well suggests, every fictional work is in fact an account in prose or verse of actual or fictional events which are being narrated or passed on to the reader. This may be accomplished in a number of ways and range anything from the narrative-less plays and drama which rely totally on the dialogue of the characters, to dialogue-less works which are in themselves totally a narrative. Either way, or anything in between the two extremes, the narrative portion of the story, the action and direction, as well as the very dialogues, are in effect being presented from a particular viewpoint. Such a viewpoint is obviously central to the story and generally follows the protagonist and the main characters. Lets have a look at the some of the various methods or approaches at the art of narration:

The First-Person Mode

The First-Person narrative or what I like to term as the 'Me-Mode' is when a fictional work is presented in the first person (i.e. in the 'I did, I saw' form). Such a point of view is quite obviously attributed to that central person making him or her both the protagonist as well as the narrator. Although, such a style is automatically attributed to the author himself in the sense of the story using the first person, but in reality, the author is for the purpose of the narrative taking on or assuming a different and fictitious role. In this sense, the author would be entering into the primary role of the protagonist and see things and events through his or her eyes and experiencing the joys, traumas and emotions along with him or her. So the real narrator in such cases is not the author but the very character whose role the author is assuming. Both an advantage and a disadvantage in utilising this mode is that since the narrator is within the story itself, he or she obviously can only narrate anything personally experienced, known, assumed or thought. As such this is best suited for a stream-of-conciousness style and is also best suited for horror and detective fiction where the reader is thus limited to or even misled by the gradual progress and discovery of the protagonist. Conversely, this style presents a difficulty to authors to develop sub-plots and to include events in which the narrator may not always be present. A strong point of this style is the bonding of the reader to the protagonist as he delves deeper into his or her intimacy.

The Third-Person Specific

When however an account is presented in the third person (i.e. in the 'he/she did. he/she saw' form), the narrator's point of view maybe rather vague and obscure. But in this specific third-person approach the situation is very similar to the First-Person approach above but from a third-person aspect. In such a presentation, the narration always follows this character and only narrates things and events that are occurring in his or her presence or that are somehow known to him or her. That is, the same approach of the first person may be utilized in the sense that even though the story is being told by a third person, the narration still takes a specific point of view of the main protagonist but the narrator this time is no longer the protagonist itself, rather a faithful but obscure third person who seems to follow him or her throughout the narrative. (Which is why I like to term this approach as the 'follow-mode'.) This form of narration is characterized by the ever-presence of the protagonist throughout the narrative and therefore assumes his or her viewpoint and as such is limited to flows of thought and presentation of emotions as experienced only by that character or somehow shared by that character. As such this style is not much different from the First-Person Mode except that being in the third-person is less intimate and more obscurity is allowed.

The Third-Person Generic

A different but similar approach to the third-person method above is for the narrator to take various roles (i.e. take the role of various characters). Effectively, this approach introduces multiple narrators, one of which is generally the protagonist, any other possible main character, or at times even perhaps an anonymous bystander. The basic difference here to the 'God-mode' below is that the action or events are seen and described through these different characters and their respective viewpoints and therefore each narrator may give his or her own flavor, and present his or her own feelings in respect to the events being witnessed. In this manner the reader is easily led and influenced by each different narrator who may be highlighting often intentionally obscure and misleading viewpoints of various intertwined sub-plots which finally culminate in a possibly dramatic ending.

The God-Mode

Another approach to narration is by presenting the narrator as an omnipotent all-seeing and ever-present being who presents the events, emotions, happenings and scenes from various viewpoints including past, present, and future. This does not mean that the narrator is in anyway at all visible or participates in the story. The narrator remains rather quite unobtrusive and gives the reader the impression of being simply the teller of the story rather than a direct participant as in all other modes. Present of course, quite unlike the first-person approach above in which the reader tends to associate himself or herself with the protagonist's feelings, emotions and tribulations, but rather as an ever present but withdrawn distant observer. In this mode the narrator is not seeing any specific character's viewpoint at any point in time but is simply the silent observer and thus contrary to the other modes may even narrate events were no characters are present. Think of this kind of like the cinematic camera viewpoint which can follow and switch between various scenes including empty rooms or inanimate scenery. Due to this viewpoint, this style is highly effective in creating atmosphere but tends to keep aloof of the characters and thus binding of the reader with the protagonist is only loosely established. The narrator may also 'abuse' of his or her omniscient viewpoint to offer opinions or judgments about characters within the story but in so doing risks clashing with the reader's own conclusions.

The Narrated Mode

Yes, this is basically falling back on the traditional narrator mode which we started with at the beginning of this article. In this style we are presented with a story teller within the story itself who is actually narrating the tale to the reader. Such a narrator may or may not be himself or herself a part of the story but may simply choose to present himself to the reader and proceed to narrate the given tale. The narrator will in such cases pause from time to time to converse with the reader or simply to comment on the happenings. This is especially comic when the narrator is within the story himself and in critical moments halts or pauses the action just to pass a comment or even perhaps to alter the happenings with an excuse of having skipped a part or of having wrongly recalled the facts. Such a situation is often seen but not limited to motion pictures. Such a narrated mode may also occur partially in any of the other modes above when one or more characters may be required to recount a past episode.

Whatever way the author decides to present the story, the narrator remains a very important role and whose point of view may affect the meaning of the presented work. The narrator, or the teller of the story may be the reader's friend, guide, or even enemy who is there to pass on not just a story but the whole underlying theme or message and as such has a role which is more important than the very author who created him or her.

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