Narrative Examples

Authors want to convey intellectual and emotional meaning to the reader through the written word.  To do that, we must understand and be responsive to the reader’s experience.  We control the reader’s experience through narration, which is subject to our use and control of language.

Author: has intention and purpose.  Uses language and structure to create meaning.  Gets name on book jacket.

Narrator: Not to be confused with the author, the narrator is a tool purposely designed by the author to create the parameters of our imagination, which is then the “narrative consciousness,” which in turn is the story.  You have choices in approach to narration, usually expressed in either first, or third person, but can include other “seats of consciousness.” These “seats” can be limited or diffuse, specific or vague.

If there is language, there is a narrator, but the author has a choice whether to personify this narrator through the author’s use of subjectivity. The reader experiences the narrative consciousness, the result of the choices you’ve made. Narrative strategies create limits and therefore also limit meanings.

 Narrative Voice is the reflection of language: diction, rhythms, grammar, and objective and subjective elements.

 Narrative Point of View: Is the point of connection in language between writer and reader.  It can reside anywhere and at any time, including inside of characters, floating in space, in the past or in the future, at the whim of the author. Point of View can transition or move abruptly, even word to word, reside in one place for the duration of a story or move so much as to seem ubiquitous.  Marquez wrote from the POV of a town in 100 years of Solitude.  Tolstoy wrote with near omniscience and even in the POV of a Dog in War and Peace, Steven Milhouser, in “The Knife Thrower,” wrote in first person plural (we.) It can be acute of diffuse (specific or vague). In writing, POV exists in every word, even if it is vague and renders no view because it is held in the eye of the reader. POV is established not only through objective detail such as sight but through the other sensory experiences of touch, taste, smell, and sound.  POV is also held in subjectivity and thought.  Creating limits on POV by fixing POV in space and time and limiting its movement mirrors the reader’s experience of POV in life and is therefore less confusing to the reader.

POV Character: A character within whom the author has fixed Point of View.

Some Examples of Narration and Character POV in Third and First Person

Third Person Examples

Third Person, Objective and Subjective (personified) Distant, Multiple POV.

 Once, several years before the flood, in summer, a boy walked down the wood’s path toward the fishing hole.  He crouched under willow branches and crawled over slick mossy roots to the muddy nook he favored by the banks of the tile-green water.  A frog watched him from the other side of the river, eyes benign and uncomprehending.

Third Person, Objective, Close, Multiple POV

 Aden crouched under the willow branch, grabbed hold of the slick mossy roots as he slipped into the muddy nook by the banks of the tile-green water.  While he assembled his fishing pole, on the other side of the river, a frog watched him.

Third Person, Omitted Narrator, Close, Single POV (Moves from Objective (outside character) to Subjective (inside Character)

 Jenny crouched under the willow branch, grabbed hold of the slick mossy roots as she slipped into the muddy nook by the tile-green water.  While she pinched the worm onto hook, she smelled the rotting leaves, wet and rippling along the water’s edge, and thought of her mother’s warning.  The river ran swiftly and there’d been rain in the mountains.

Movement between Objectivity and Subjectivity is one of the dynamics you can create in story-telling.  Greater Subjectivity in Character POV gets you further inside character.  Subjectivity starts with sensation (sight is objective, seemingly exterior, but the other sensations are more “in” the body.) The furthest point of subjectivity is comprised of thoughts and analysis and is divorced from experience.  For me, too much subjectivity is suffocating in either narration or POV but using both objective and subjective elements in POV is effective.

First Person Examples

First Person cannot logically have multiple POV.  People, all people, have a single POV.  The exception in this is work which employs both a Narrative “I” POV and character “I” POV.  This is done all the time in First Person.  This means you have two 1st person characters.  This sounds like a narrator telling a story about his/herself.  To my mind, they are not the same person and should “feel” differently on the page because they are separated by time. Also, and significantly, one knows the story, in total, and one does not.

Because (in fiction) the author creates the narrative persona and can place that persona anywhere in time.  Therefore, the author can choose to place the narrative persona very close in time to the character POV. This creates the illusion of a merged narrator and character.  They are not merged because one exists in the time of the story and the other does not, but handled well, they can feel as if they are merged. This is a sophisticated technique that requires excellent control over voice and time. Generally, otherwise, any movement toward multiple POV in first person is “projecting” or subjective analysis.

For example: “I waited patiently outside.  When he came out of the shop, he was angry.” (Subjective analysis of empirical information that is omitted)

“She passed the puffed shrimp.  I knew she hated me. (Unsubstantiated projection or omitted evidence from backstory).

Note: Be aware of the problem if these sentences are rendered in 3rd person.   It might seem as if your narrator is omniscient, and that you are switching the location of POV.

First Person Narrator and First Person Character without character POV.

I remember that Saturday.  Spaghetti boiled in the pot and the kitchen, as it always did.  The hot summer air smelled of garlic and oil.  I approached the pot, turned down the flame with the knob, called to my mother. 

Narrative POV and Character POV mixed

As it was Saturday, in the kitchen, the air was tart with tomato and the nutty smell of garlic frying in olive oil as the lid on the roiling pot rattled with the enthusiasm of spaghetti.  I called to my mother, but she wasn’t there.  It was then I noticed the window. 

Use of Narrator’s Persona Creates a Distant POV

I walked into the kitchen, smelling tart tomato sauce and nutty garlic frying in oil.  The lid on the spaghetti pot rattled with boiling.  I turned down the heat and wondered about my mother, called out.  When I saw the window, my fingers went numb. 

Omitting Narrator Persona creates a Close, Objective, POV. 

The kitchen was acrid with the smell of tomato sauce and garlic.  The lid rattled as the spaghetti boiled.  Turning the knob, I called,  “Momma.”  The curtains blew at the open window.  My fingers went numb. 

Creating Greater Subjectivity in the POV character, though thoughts, analysis, discernments, and summary, can get you even closer into character POV, but like Narrative Persona above, it can be suffocating for the reader—subjectivity is rendered at the cost of “objective experience.” The reader wants subjective experience balanced with objective experience.  This way they have control over the imaginative meaning of the work—they participate. The quick fix for too much subjectivity is the maxim: Show Don’t Tell.