Narrative Perspective

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of questions on narration. People seem concerned with whether they should write in the 1st or 3rd person. If you’re concerned that writing in 3rd person won’t allow deeper access to a character’s interiority – don’t be. The reason for this is because there’s a difference between the narrator and the focal character.

The narrator is the one who tells the story. In other words, the voice that utters the narrative belongs to the narrator.

The point of view and opinions that orient the narrative perspective belong to the focal character.

The narrator can be different from the focal character, or they can be the same.

There are three patterns of focalization:

  1. Zero or non-focalization
    • The omniscient narrator
    • The narrator says or knows more than any one character. Its perspective can go anywhere, and see through whomever or whatever serves its purpose.
  2. Internal focalization
    • The narrative perspective limits itself to a single point of view, and so the narrator says no more than what a given character knows.
  3. External focalization
    • The narrator knows or says less than what a given character knows. He observes and tells with only limited comprehension (think John Watson in Sherlock Holmes).

 

Free Indirect Discourse is a way of presenting the thoughts or opinions of a character as if from that character’s point of view. This is done by combining features of the character’s direct speech with features of the narrator’s indirect report. Basically, even though the narrator is the one speaking, the reader knows that the narrator is echoing the character’s thoughts.

Examples:

  • She thought, “I will see him in the morning.” ⇒ Direct/Reported Speech
  • She thought that she would see him in the morning. ⇒ Indirect Speech
  • She would see him in the morning. ⇒ Free Indirect Discourse

 

I would suggest reading Jane Austen to study how she jumps from one character’s perspective to another. In Emma, most of the novel is focalized through Emma, but the perspective occasionally shifts to another character. For example, the perspective will shift to Mr. Knightley in certain scenes when he has a better understanding of the situation than Emma. In Pride and Prejudice, the perspective shifts much more frequently, allowing us access to different characters’ interiority.

 

 

 

 

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