Now that we have looked at some ways of generating ideas for stories, it's time to look closely at how we tell our stories. One of the earliest decisions that a writer will need to make is to choose a narrative style.
First of all, it is important to know the difference between the author and the narrator. Obviously the author is the person writing the story. But the author is not necessarily the person telling the story. Quite often the story is being told by one of its characters.
When writing fiction in first person narrative (I, me, my, we, etc.) it is important to develop a character who is independent of yourself as a writer. Obviously you may put a lot of yourself into the character, but ultimately the character is not actually you. You need to develop a deep understanding of this character – how they talk, how they react to situations, how they think. Eventually you should know this character better than they know themselves. Some first person narratives – such as J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye – have very strong, distinctive voices for their narrators, and while not all first-person narrators need to be as distinctive as Holden Caulfield, it is still important to find their voice.
When writing in first-person narrative, it is also important to remember that the action must be limited to what the narrator can perceive. We cannot go outside his or her field of knowledge or read the thoughts of other characters. Everything that is described must be through the narrator’s senses.
The appeal of first-person narrative is that it provides opportunities to get inside the narrator’s head. He or she can openly discuss their feelings. We view the story through their eyes alone, and often relate to them in a personal way. First person narrative creates close contact with the reader. It helps readers to empathise with your protagonist and develop an emotional connection with them.
Third-person narrative (he, she, it, John, Mrs Brown, etc.) gives the writer an omnipresence, the ability to view the story from anywhere, like a ‘fly on the wall’. Many stories are told this way. The narrator has the ability to read the thoughts of any character, and to describe any scene regardless of who is in it. This is particularly useful for stories that have many characters or locations. Third person narratives still normally have one or two main characters with whom the reader can closely connect. In fact, many stories written in third person narrative still do not reveal information that the protagonist does not know. This achieves the effect of aligning the reader with one main characters, creating a close relationship and empathy between reader and character. Remember, readers must care about your characters on some level in order to maintain an emotional interest in your story.
Selecting your point of view depends on the type of story you are writing. Quite often the narrative style will select itself naturally. Sometimes you might even abandon a story that is ‘not working’ and start again from a different point of view for much better results. Carefully considering what your narrative style is going to be, and knowing who is going to tell the story, is one of the most important early decisions you will make.
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