Mode of Narration

The writing mode you'll use to tell your story.

The next thing I'd like to talk with you about is the mode of narration. The mode of narration constitutes a critical decision that you're going to make in your writing right upfront. That decision defines how you're going to tell your story and how you're going to construct it. Let's look at the mode of narration in detail. It's composed of three components. The first is the point of view or POV. Point of view defines who's telling the story. The next is the voice that defines how they're telling the story. Then there's tense that defines whether the story takes place in the past, present or future. Let's dig into the mode of narration in more detail by looking at the point of view.

Once again, you have three points of view to consider. The first-person point of view makes the narrator yourself. This point of view involves telling the story from your point of view, as in "I ran to catch the train." Second person point of view is rare, so we're not going to spend much time discussing it. An example would include: "You ran to catch the train. The third-person point of view is also prevalent. An example of a third-person point of view would include, "He ran to catch the train." This example is about another person. The Third-person is probably the most common point of view in writing, but the first person can give you a very intimate feel. It can get you very close to the story. After all, the narrator of the story is yourself.

In comparison, the third person is more for gathering large groups and considering what's happening to a sizeable disparate cast. Next, let's look at voice, and we're going to look at two pieces. First, what kind of voice will we use for the first and second person. Remember, we're not considered the second person. The first is an internal monologue which is what I was having -- a stream of consciousness. A stream of consciousness represents the internal workings of the mind. Unless you're a very advanced writer, I wouldn't suggest this form of voice since it's hard to keep the reader captivated with a stream of consciousness. More common, the most common, for first-person is character. Here the narrator can be involved in the story or can be not involved in the story. Still, in either case, there's a character who is narrating the story.

The final is epistolary which are letters or diary entries. Dracula and the Bridges of Madison County are two examples of stories that make heavy use of this. Third-person has its voices. We have a subjective voice which means that the narrator knows the character's thoughts. He is aware of one or two characters' thoughts and can convey a character's thoughts and feelings.

An example would be Tom hated winter and was miserable. The narrator knows what Tom is thinking. Another is the third-person objective, where the narrator knows no character's thoughts. By his actions, one would guess Tom hated winter and was miserable. We can only tell things by external appearances since we know of no character's thoughts, at least we being the narrator. Finally, there's third-person omniscient in which the narrator knows everything. An example of this would be winter was upon the earth and all creatures we're miserable. How else would we know this unless we had a God's eye point of view?

The last component is tense that is when the story happened. The tense is very simple. You have a past tense: I ran to catch the train. The past tense is when your writing about something that happened in the past. Present tense, which is very uncommon: I run to catch the train. The future tense is also uncommon: I will run to catch the train. Allow me to make these rules easy. Past tense is the most common, and it's one that I'm going to suggest using. Those are the three components if you put them together.

Now, if I've confused you, let's make things much more straightforward. There are two common choices in popular fiction. The first is first person, character, past tense. Here the narrator is "I," and you're telling the story from your perspective. You're a character either involved in the story or external to the story. You're telling the story in past tense because it happened in the past. I hadn't planned to kill myself that night, but I hadn't ruled it out either. Next, we'll look at a second popular choice: third person, subjective, past tense. Tom hadn't planned to kill himself that night, but he hadn't ruled it out either. Here you're talking about a third person externally. You're getting into his thought and being subjective about it and your writing in the past tense. So if all of the options confuse you, I've just simplified it down to the most common ones. I would suggest choosing first person, character, past tense or third person, subjective, past tense. Review this lecture if you're not quite sure what that means.

Finally. Rules of narration. One of the reasons that I told you about all these rules is that you must use a consistent point of view, voice and tense as you write your story. Don't change from present to past tense. Don't head hop too much as far as the point of view, don't go from omniscient to personal and don't jump from "I" to "he," stick with what you're doing. Of course, there are always the ever-present rules, but don't worry about break breaking those rules if you know what you're doing. It's okay to mix narrative modes. In one case, in the Butterscotch Jones mystery series, my wife used the first-person point of view for the main narrator. She then jumped to other characters' minds using the third person to tell everybody else's story. It worked very well.

That's all that I have to say about the rules of the narration. I hope that I haven't confused you too much and I've given you something about which to think. What is going to be your mode of narration and your style?