The Royal We

Narration is one of the most powerful tools in writing. Used properly, the narrator (or narrators) of a story serves as a conduit between the author and the reader, doling out important information and sometimes even speaking directly to the reader. Narration can be omniscient or subjective; subtle or blatant; relatable or not. Skilful narration can truly make a reader see the world through someone else’s eyes. There are as many forms of narration as there are books.

I'd like to see the world through his eyes.
I’d like to see the world through his eyes.

Narration wasn’t something I used to notice much. I think it took the first time reading The Great Gatsby to realize that a narrator could be anything but reliable. Slowly, I began to notice different types of narration in all the things I read–the chummy, speak-directly-to-the-reader narration of C. S. Lewis began to bother me, while other more subtle narration variations began to jump out at me when employed skilfully . Now, as a writer, deciding how to use narration as a tool in my storyteller’s kit is something I do nearly every day.

Recently, I’ve been noticing a lot of popular books (The Hunger Games, Twilight and Divergent being a few) written in first person present tense narration. There’s a lot to be said for this style: first person narration nearly always serves to bring the reader closer to the protagonist, and use of the present tense tends to heighten the immediacy of the story, making the reader feel as though they are truly submerged in the action. But it’s become so ubiquitous that now, when I pick up a book written in third person or past tense, it’s like a breath of fresh air.

First person present again?!
First person present again?!

I wrote my first MS in third person past tense. The narration was limited to the protagonist’s subjective observations and feelings. My current WIP is written in first person past tense. Personally, I feel my instinct is to write in first person, but it can be rewarding to challenge myself with other styles of narration and tenses. In many of my short stories, I try to use a style of narration or a tense that I’m uncomfortable with; the challenge can be almost as much fun as writing the story. I have yet to dabble in second person point of view, but maybe one of these days….

Do you have a favorite style of narration? Do you find some narrative styles or tenses easier to read or write? Share in the comments section below!

One Comment

  1. Steven Robinette
    Reply

    I imagine it has to be a difficult exercise to pick a tense that does not feel natural in the context. Scientific writing is notable for its dependence on passive voice and past tense. This would feel wrong when writing correspondence (or really anything else!) but somehow feels impossible to change when writing for a scientific journal.

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