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Narration, also called point of view (also point-of-view or viewpoint) describes from which grammatical person's perspective the story is perceived. The narrative mode encompasses not only who tells the story, but also how the story is described or expressed (for example, by using stream of consciousness or unreliable narration). See viewpoint character.
The person who is used to tell the story is called the "narrator," a character developed by the author expressly for the purpose of relating events to the audience. The experiences and observations related by the narrator are not generally to be regarded as those of the author, though in some cases (especially in non-fiction), it is possible for the narrator and author to be the same person. However, the narrator may be a fictive person devised by the author as a stand-alone entity, or even a character. The narrator is considered participant if an actual character in the story, and nonparticipant if only an implied character, or a sort of omniscient or semi-omniscient being who does not take part in the story but only relates it to the audience.
First-person narrative is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for and about themselves. First-person narrative may be singular, plural or multiple as well as being an authoritative, reliable or deceptive "voice" and represents point of view in the writing.
The character/s explicitly refers to themselves using words and phrases involving "I" (referred to as the first-person singular) and/or "We" (the first-person plural). This allows the reader or audience to see the point of view (including opinions, thoughts, and feelings) only of the narrator, and no other characters. In some stories, first-person narrators may refer to information they have heard from the other characters, in order to try to deliver a larger point of view. Other stories may switch from one narrator to another, allowing the reader or audience to experience the thoughts and feelings of more than one character.
Second-person narrative is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for "you" (singular and plural). It brings the reader into the story. An example would be: "You got up. You walked to the bar and said hello to the bartender, Marty. You got your drink and paid and left."
Traditionally, the employment of the second-person form in literary fiction has not been as prevalent as the corresponding first-person and third-person forms, yet second-person narration is, in many languages, a very common technique of several popular and non- or quasi-fictional written genres such as guide books, self-help books, do-it-yourself manuals, interactive fiction, role-playing games, gamebooks such as the Choose Your Own Adventure series, musical lyrics, and advertisements.
Although not the most common narrative technique in literary fiction, second-person narration has constituted a favoured form of various literary works within, notably, the modern and post-modern tradition.
In No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty says, "You are not allowed to use second-person perspective in your novel next month. Not even ironically. Sorry. Rules are rules." Some Wrimos use second person anyway, usually while writing interactive fiction or Choose Your Own Adventure novels.
Third-person narration provides the greatest flexibility to the author and thus is the most commonly used narrative mode in literature. In the third-person narrative mode, each and every character is referred to by the narrator as "he", "she", "it", or "they", but never as "I" or "we" (first-person), or "you" (second-person). In third-person narrative, it is necessary that the narrator be merely an unspecified entity or uninvolved person that conveys the story, but not a character of any kind within the story being told. Third-person singular (he/she) is overwhelmingly the most common type of third-person narrative, although there have been successful uses of the third-person plural (they), as in Maxine Swann's short story "Flower Children". Even more common, however, is to see singular and plural used together in one story, at different times, depending upon the number of people being referred to at a given moment in the plot.
The third-person limited is a narrative mode in which the reader experiences the story through the senses and thoughts of just one character. This is almost always the main character—e.g., Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling's series. In third-person limited, the narration is limited in the same way a first-person narrative might be—i.e., the narrator cannot tell the reader things that the focal character does not know—but the text is written in the third person.
The third-person omniscient is a narrative mode in which both the reader and author observe the situation either through the senses and thoughts of more than one character, or through an overarching godlike perspective that sees and knows everything that happens and everything the characters are thinking. Third-person omniscient is virtually always the narrative mode chosen for sprawling, epic stories such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
However, while a godlike all-knowing perspective necessarily uses third-person omniscient, there are other uses for this narrative mode. Third-person omniscient simply means that the narrator can tell the reader things that the main character does not know, or things that none of the characters know, or things that no human being could ever know (e.g., what the first conscious creature felt like as it climbed out of the primordial ooze, in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).
The third-person objective employs a narrator who tells a story without describing any character's thoughts, opinions, or feelings; instead it gives an objective, unbiased point of view. Often the narrator is self-dehumanized in order to make the narrative more neutral; this type of narrative mode, outside of fiction, is often employed by newspaper articles, biographical documents, and scientific journals. This point of view can be described as a "fly on the wall" or "camera lens" approach that can only record the observable actions, but does not interpret these actions or relay what thoughts are going through the minds of the characters. Works of fiction that use this style put a great deal of emphasis on characters acting out their feelings in an observable way. Internal thoughts, if expressed, are given voice through an aside or soliloquy.
The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If it is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited.
While the general rule is for novels to adopt a single approach to point of view throughout, there are exceptions. Many stories, especially in literature, alternate between the first and third person. In this case, an author will move back and forth between a more omniscient third-person narrator to a more personal first-person narrator. Often, a narrator using the first person will try to be more objective by also employing the third person for important action scenes, especially those in which he/she is not directly involved or in scenes where he/she is not present to have viewed the events in first person. This mode is found in the novel The Poisonwood Bible.
Epistolary novels, which were very common in the early years of the novel, generally consist of a series of letters written by different characters, and necessarily switching when the writer changes; the classic books Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Abraham "Bram" Stoker and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde take this approach. Sometimes, though, they may all be letters from one character, such as C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters and Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island switches between third and first person, as do Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Vladimir Nabokov's The Gift.
An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theatre, whose credibility has been seriously compromised. The term was coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth in The Rhetoric of Fiction. This narrative mode is one that can be developed by an author for a number of reasons, usually to deceive the reader or audience. Unreliable narrators are usually first-person narrators, but third-person narrators can also be unreliable.
An example of a possible unreliable narrator is the narrator for the television series How I Met Your Mother, where the "Father" (Ted) has been known to lie to his "children" (his in-tale audience; the audience hears this narration as though they are the children) about events in the series, especially when the events seem to be revealing the eponymous "Mother".
Stream of consciousness narration
Stream of consciousness is a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue, or in connection to his or her actions.