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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou. Before you can get your story out and write it down, you need to decide which narrative style you are going to use. You may have vivid memories, amazing plot lines and great ideas but they will not have the desired effect if your narrative style or type is flawed. When you sit down to write a novel, having a clear narrative style can help you keep track of the story and prevent your from straying too much.
There is no hard and fast rule that you have to stick to one narrative style throughout the novel or short story. Many legendary authors like Margaret Atwood have often used third and first person narrative styles in the same book to great effect. This is done when more than one character presents the story. There may be numerous ways to write your story but there are only a few ways to narrate it.
Third person narrative style
Pronouns like “he”, “she”, “it”, “they”, etc. and the names of the characters are used when writing a novel in third person narrative style. A writer chooses a third-person narrator (who is not part of the story) to describe actions, characters, settings, etc. in the novel and to move the story forward. This style of narrative is one of the most common styles used by writers and amateur authors drift to this narrative style very often. However, even when using the third person narrative style, you need to decide if your narrator knows everything that is happening in the novel or if you want to give only limited knowledge to the narrator so that the story depends on the interpretations of the narrator.
If you want your readers to know about the whole world that your story is based in, you need to use the third person omniscient narrative style. Novels written by Jane Austen show how third person omniscient narrative style needs to be used. On the other hand, if you want your readers and narrator to know only what one or a few characters know and experience then you need to use the third person limited narrative style. Along the same lines, your narrator can be an objective or subjective narrator. Only the experiences and observations of the characters are revealed to the readers when using objective third person narration whereas the emotions and thoughts of the characters are used to describe events when using subjective narration style.
When you want the readers to know something that is about to happen to the characters or something that the narrator does not know yet, use third person omniscient style to create tension and suspense.
Providing depth to multiple characters or giving the entire novel some psychological depth is best achieved by using third person omniscient narrative style.
If you want your story to be deeply personal to only one character, third person limited narrative style is the best option for you.
Second person narrative style
This narrative style is used rarely as the pronoun “you” is not very helpful in telling a story. Second person narrative style is very rarely used throughout the whole novel and is most commonly used in advertisements and blog writing. However, there are some famous writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Albert Camus who have employed this narrative style for a major portion of some of their short stories and novels.
Writers of modern novels, such as William Faulkner, have also used second person narrative in few passages and chapters of their novels. Perhaps the most famous example of a book written in second person narrative is ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’, where the reader takes on the role of the main character.
First person narrative style
The first and the third person narrative styles are most commonly used by writers. As the name of the narrative style suggests, when using the first person narrative style, pronouns like “I” and “me” are used. If you want to fill your stories with personal accounts and your memories, the best narrative style would be the first person narrative. First person narratives tend to be very descriptive and filled with the emotions and thoughts of the narrator.
First person omniscient style is not preferred by writers as the narrator needs to know about everything that is happening or will happen in the novel, which is not logically possible. However, ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides is a perfect example of the first person omniscient narrative style but the skill of the author makes it possible to use this narrative style.
Another characteristic of the first person narrative style is that the narrator may not always be a reliable source of information as the story is told from his/her points of view. One famous example of an unreliable narrator is Humbert Humbert in the novel ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov. You can create a lot of drama and suspense by using unreliable narrators. In first person narratives, the narrator can be a major or minor character in the story. Case in point, the narrator in ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald is only a minor character in the book.
First person narratives are best for action packed thrillers, detective novels, crime thrillers and similar genres. The readers are more involved in the action when this narrative style is used.
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