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How to Use Different Narrative Styles in Your Writing, With Examples

Updated on February 24, 2015

Should I Use First, Second or Third Person Narrative Style in My Writing?

Choosing the right voice for your story is a big part of making it work.
Choosing the right voice for your story is a big part of making it work. | Source

What Is Your Favoured Style?

Which Style do you Favour in Your Writing?

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Choosing a Narrative Style for Your Writing

I am going to explain the different written narrative styles and show examples of them in action.

The narrative style you choose for your writing will change the way it reads and also your reader’s perception of it. As writers we are given a wide choice of styles, and if we choose wisely it gives us the power to pull the reader in and whisper secrets to them. Is your character telling their own story? Is it an innocent bystander's account of events? Or perhaps a supreme voice who knows all the characters secrets?

In the following paragraphs I am going to examine some of these styles and also some of the advantages and disadvantages of using them.

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Examples of First Person Narration

In first person narration where the person telling the story is the central character:

I clearly remember that it was half past two when the phone rang that day. That was the start of my downfall.


An example of first person narration where the narrator is a witness to the main character:

It was November 16th when Llana Stinton had whispered to me, about her big secret. That was the day that I'd found out what she'd done.

First Person

First person narrative style is where the character is relaying their own story. They may be the main character on which the whole story is based or they could be a bystander relaying the main character's tale.

In the two examples you can clearly see the difference between a narrator telling their own story and a narrator whom is merely a witness and teller of someone else's tale.







Disadvantages of First Person

  1. Starting multiple sentences with 'I' is not pleasing to the eyes.
  2. Because it is expressing only one person's inner thoughts, it can appear to be a limited viewpoint.
  3. From the writer's perspective if you want to show that a character is not all that they appear to be, if theirs is the only narrative voice, it can be difficult to show that deception.

Advantages of First Person

  1. It is an easy way to express innermost feelings and thoughts without them being diluted by a third party narrator.
  2. You are able to use regional speech patterns and slang in the narration, as the natural thought patterns of the character.
  3. In the case of the character telling their own story it is believed to come across as more natural than other narrative methods.

Write as if you are the Character

If writing as the main character, you need to be that character, walking in their shoes and feeling their emotions.
If writing as the main character, you need to be that character, walking in their shoes and feeling their emotions. | Source

Example of Second Person

You are walking down Teller Street, when a man walks up, and stares at you.

Second Person Narration

Second person narration is a little more complicated and not the first choice of most authors of fiction. It involves the narrator referring to the main character as 'you.' This can pull the reader in to the story, but difficult to hold the reader's interest.

Disadvantages of Second Person

  1. As a reader it can be hard to read about 'you' experiencing things when clearly you are sitting at home and not in the scene.
  2. It can be quite repetative to keep this style going through a long period of text.

Advantages of Second Person

  1. Due to the wording the reader can feel part of the story.
  2. When dealing with a troubled character this style of narration can provide an opportunity for the character for self confession.
  3. For tourist guidebooks it provide the reader with a realtime guide to what they they are experiencing.

Second Person Narrative Can be Advantageous on Occasion

When dealing with a troubled character this style can be useful.
When dealing with a troubled character this style can be useful. | Source

Examples of Third Person

Limited omniscience example - 'I would love to go to your party Zander,' he said smiling. All the while, seething he had been cornered.

Omniscient example - He thought he was a true gent and she was a very lucky woman to have him. She wished he would leave, so she could move her lover in.

Objective example - He appeared to be rattled by her sudden appearance, whilst she looked surprised to see him.

Third Person

This narrative style has three basic forms:

Limited omniscience - Where the narrator knows all one character's thoughts, feelings and fears.

Omniscience - Where the narrator knows all there is to know about each character.

Objective - Where the narrator has no additional information on the characters, other than what can be gained from viewing the characters as an outsider looking in on the unwinding tale. The narrator also doesn't pass any judgements or comments on any of the decisions or actions taken within the story.

Disadvantages of Third Person

  1. It can be difficult to switch between different third party viewpoints and make each character stand out as different.
  2. As an omniscient narrator the huge power of moving between characters thoughts can be too tempting. For a reader having the thoughts of four different characters all intermingled on one page, can at best be confusing and at worse have them swiftly closing the book.
  3. Reigning in your own personal opinions and not commenting on the morals of your story can also sometimes be hard.

Advantages of Third Person

  1. There are multiple variations on the third party style.
  2. With omniscient narration we can see the inner and outer viewpoint of the character, which is a powerful technique to show what the character is expressing and how that contrasts with what they are really feeling.
  3. With a little bit of practice it is possible to use multiple characters viewpoints. By using new paragraphs or chapters and giving each character a distinct style of their own, it is possible to deal with various characters using limited omniscient narration.
  4. The various types of third party narration also allow for as much or as little narrative commentary as the writer desires.

Third Person Provides Various Choices

As an omniscient narrator you have access to various characters inner most thoughts and secrets.
As an omniscient narrator you have access to various characters inner most thoughts and secrets. | Source

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The Conclusion - What Style Should You Use?

From first to third person style, we find ourselves with a multitude of choices. The best way to choose what is right for your story is to base it upon your main character and main plot line. Although first person perspective is the most popular in modern fiction, there are very distinct advantages with using a third person perspective. The ability to show the characters thoughts and the stark contrast that they present from their outward behaviour is very appealing. Using different chapters to provide your characters with their own spotlight means you can highlight more than one main character.

With a little practice you can move between different styles within your writing. There is no right or wrong, only a choice. Think of your character and choose the style which will breathe life into them, and make them come alive for your reader.

Everything is Seen Through Their Viewpoint

Whose eyes are your readers looking through?
Whose eyes are your readers looking through? | Source

© 2014 Anna Haven

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    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      When I write to explain steps of a project, I use the second person. I realized that with your article :-)

      You explained it very well with the advantages and disavantages of each style.

      As always, I love your pictures; especially the last one. Are the daffodils from this Spring? If yes... lucky you... we still have a lot of snow here and I don't think we will see any flowers for at least four weeks!

      Have a great week, Anna!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A very good explanation of the three; I like how you told the advantages and disadvantages of each. Well done, Anna!

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Joelle

      I think second person is perfect for craft projects where the reader is working right alongside the instructions.

      The daffodil picture was taken today...it was quite sunny here and warm. The whole winter has been much milder than normal. I hope your snow thaws soon.

      Thank you very much for reading.

      Anna :)

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Bill

      Thanks for reading. I'm really glad it sounded clear as the whole narrative business is a bit of a complex one and I was hoping I had managed to express what I was trying to say.

      Anna :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Great insight here, Anna, as to the different narrative styles. For the most part, I am a nonfiction writer, so I use first person, but I have enjoyed writing fiction here of late. It is fun to mix it up, as I am finding out. Love your photos. We have daffodils blooming now. It is beautiful here this day and I hope the cold is gone, but we may have one more cold spell.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings,

      Faith Reaper

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Faith Reaper.

      You are right, a large part of the fun of writing is mixing styles a little and using the ones which feels right for your writing rather than the popular choice.

      It is really good to see flowers blooming again and colour appearing everywhere and off course some sunshine.

      Thank you for reading, sharing and the vote.

      Anna :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I is really necessary in many of the things I do for HP but if writing a story first person it is really really hard getting around so many I's so I prefer not to do those if I can keep from it, especially if it is something serious.

      Great outline.^

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I like how you not only described each but also provided advantages and disadvantages. And those photos were spectacular. Voted up and more, plus shared.

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Thank you very much Jackie. I am third person narrator fan as well. It gives a lot of options to work with. Hope you had a great birthday yesterday. :)

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Hi FlourishAnyway

      Thank you for the vote and share. I thought that the pros and cons would be helpful when making a choice. I wasn't sure which photos to tie in with it, so I am glad they worked ok.

      Anna :)

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Nice job, Anna. I seem to switch between third and first person in my stories. When describing a scene or feelings, I use third person. When the characters become active in the story, they speak in the first person.

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 3 years ago

      Hi, Anna,

      So good to see your name when I opened up HP, today.

      Super article with examples and questions.

      As with most, it depends on the article that is being worked.

      I am working on a long project, at this time. I have used different narratives at different times.

      You have brought up some great points in this article.

      Voted up!

      DJ.

    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      Great and well written hub. I prefer to write as "first person", the easiest way for me. Maybe the other alternatives can be fun to try to get some variation.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wonderful hub Anna, with perfect explanations of the different styles of narration. Very helpful. Voted up.

    • VVanNess profile image

      Victoria Van Ness 3 years ago from Prescott Valley

      What a beautifully done article. I love this!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Such a useful explanation--the examples really help!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      First off, I love all the photos. Beautiful! And, this hub is totally useful. Clever idea of giving us readers examples. It just made it a lot easier to understand.

      More often, I prefer to write in "first person" depending of course on the plot as you said.

      Well done.

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 3 years ago from Oz

      Great article. In writing my third novel I chose the first person, mainly because it was a story expressing the deepest fears and confessions of the main character. Worked really well, and I found I thoroughly enjoyed writing in that narrative style.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and very useful Anna ;thanks for sharing and I wish you a great day.

      Eddy.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      The narrative voice is crucial for all the reason you have outlined in this excellent hub. I utilize all three, depending on the theme of the story. Voted up and more.

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Thank you Bravewarrior :)

      That is the joy being the writer, you can switch between styles till you are happy with the result.

      Hi DJ

      That was a nice thing to say. I am really looking forward to reading you work when it is finished.

      Are you going to go ebook or publisher?

      Thank you

      Anna :)

      Thank you very much Kerlund74 for taking the time to read and comment.

      Thank you for reading and the vote Jodah.

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Apologises everyone, there is no reply button on comments so I am having to lump them all together!

      VVanNess thank you for taking the time to read and for leaving a kind comment.

      Audrey thank you for reading for the last year, it is appreciated. :)

      Hi CriSp, I thought the examples would make it easier to explain. Thank you.

      Thank you Parrster for reading and for leaving an interesting comment. First person sounds a good choice for your book.

      Hi Eddy, thank you very much. I hope you are well.

      Thank you Genna, for taking the time to read and comment. It is great how we can adapt the voice to suit the different project in hand.

    • Tolovaj profile image

      Tolovaj 3 years ago

      Well explained and enjoyable to read. As most of other writers I used all presented narrative styles, but it looks first person in most cases worked best and this is also the approach I recommend to aspiring writers who are sending their works to me. Somehow it forces you to be more sincere, or maybe opens some paths to old memories, thoughts, which may not be accessible in other styles ... Well, just my two cents:)

      Thanks!

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Thank you for reading Tolovaj and for your interesting comment.

      You present a really good case for that narrative style and very true points.

      Anna :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Narrative style can be as well done as a dancer on stage--with finesse and compulsion. Great topic!

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Thank you aviannovice. You right it moves and breathes life into the story. :)

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Anna,

      I loved his hub. Very informative and helpful. I loved your profile. I would have left you some fan mail, but the pop-up didn't show up. Here is that fan mail.

      You are a very amazing writer. Very creative. I love how you tell this story. It will help me in my writing. Thank you.

      I am following you now, Anna. It was so glad to meet you.

      I cordially invite you to read one of my hubs and become one of my followers. I would love that.

      Best of Everything in your writing.

      Sincerely, KENNETH/ from northwest Alabama

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Kenneth

      Thank for your kind words. I am glad you liked the hub and that it was useful. I wish you well too. Anna :)

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago

      Hi, Anna,

      You have the same name as my baby granddaughter, age seven. She is Annabeth McKenzie Nash, a writer's name for sure, but now I think she is going to love fashion design.

      You are welcome for the words I gave you for they are the truth. And your hub was so helpful to me in my hub variations. Sometimes I like to have a character in my story and he or she is the narrator. That relieves the pressure on me.

      Keep up the great work, Anna.

      I will see you around on HubPages.

      Kenneth

    • Anna Haven profile image
      Author

      Anna Haven 2 years ago from Scotland

      Hi Kenneth Avery sorry for the delay in response. I came in to amend this hub and noticed that you had commented and it was tagged as spam. Naughty Hubpages.

      Your granddaughter has a lovely name and definitely an artistic one.

      Thank you for reading and being kind.

      Anna

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