Narrative Point of View

Narrative Point of View:  

The position from which a narrator relates the action of a story     

Examples

•   Cathryn Clinton’s novel A Stone in My Hand is told from the first-person point of view of the story’s ten-year-old main character:

I am Malaak Abed Atieh, and this bird is Abdo.  Abdo lives here on the roof.  I sneak him seed when no one is looking.

•   Doris Lessing’s short story “Through the Tunnel” is told from the third-person omniscient point of view of a non-participant in the story:        

Going to the shore on the first morning of the holiday, the young English boy stopped at a turning of the path and looked down at a wild and rocky bay, and then over to the crowded beach he knew so well from other years. His mother walked on in front of him, carrying a bright-striped bag in one hand. Her other arm, swinging loose, was very white in the sun. The boy watched that white, naked arm, and turned his eyes, which had a frown behind them, toward the bay and back again to his mother. When she felt he was not with her, she swung around. “Oh, there you are, Jerry!” she said.

Additional discussion:

Just as an author creates the characters who inhabit a story, so too does an author construct a narrator to relate the action.  In fictional stories, this narrator is distinct from the author; in non-fiction stories like memoir, the narrator may be the same person as the author.    

In constructing the narrator, the author can choose among a variety of points of view.  These positions differ in the degree of participation in the action, as well as the level of access to characters’ thoughts and feelings.  Here are the four most common narrative points of view:  

•   First-person:  The narrator, a participant in the action, uses first-person pronouns—I, me, my, and mine—to relate the action.  The narrator, often the main character in the story, only has access to his or her own thoughts and feelings.   

•   Third-person objective:  The narrator, a non-participant in the action, uses third-person pronouns—he, she, they, him, her, them, etc.—to relate the action.  The narrator, lacking any access to the thoughts and feelings of the characters, can only convey action and dialogue.

•   Third-person limited:  The narrator, a non-participant in the action, uses third-person pronouns—heshetheyhimherthem, etc.—to relate the action.  The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of one character, often the main character.

•   Third-person omniscient:  The narrator, a non-participant in the action, uses third-person pronouns—heshetheyhimherthem, etc.—to relate the action.  The narrator has access to the thoughts and feelings of at least two characters, and often many more.

Generally, once a story’s narrative point of view has been established, it remains consistent.  However, some stories are told by multiple narrators—for example, a novel in which each chapter is told from a different character’s first-person point of view.