To build a credible story, writers must consider who will narrate their tale. The narrator is the person who recounts the events (plot). It is important to note the narrator may not always be a person, and can also be an animal or an object. Writers use narration to funnel pertinent information to the reader in small doses throughout the story or right up front. Therefore, they use a variety of strategies to engage the reader and keep them entertained.
Limited vs. Omniscient Narrator
A limited narrator is someone who doesn’t have access to all of the story and can only provide her perspective on what she knows, seen, or experienced. Authors tend to use this type of narration to keep readers in the dark and/or build suspense.
An omniscient narrator knows everything and can convey said knowledge to the audience. While a character or characters may not understand what is happening, the audience is fully aware Sam secretly hates his overbearing father and blames him for his sister’s death.
Reliable vs. Unreliable Narrator
An unreliable narrator often plays an active role in the story and filters information to the audience through his or her perspective. Unbeknownst to the audience, the unreliable narrator may have a hidden agenda and purposefully mislead the audience to suit his or her whim.
On the other hand, a reliable narrator is typically an outsider or observer of the event he or she is recounting. The narrator provides an objective perspective about the actions, characters, and events that takes place in the story, and thus, readers can trust the information they are being told.
Author vs. Narrator
Many writers confuse the author’s voice with the narrator’s voice and assume the two are synonymous. The author creates the story, while the narrator is the person the writer has created to convey the story to the audience. For example, a young female writer may decide that her narrator is an elderly male who is content with being a drunkard. The two in this case are not the same even if the writer chooses to employ first person point of view. The confusion about the two occurs when both the narrator and the writer share similar traits.
Sometimes the narrator and the author can be the same person. Think about the millions of autobiographies that have been published in print, audio, and eBook form. Notable examples include The Autobiography of Gucci Mane and Chipper Jones’ Ball Player. In each case, the author narrates the tale to describe the kind of life he led or is living.
So, the question is how many narrators will your story contain and how much knowledge will each one have in reciting said story?