Narrative Devices Or Techniques, Point Of View
Definition of Point of View
Point of view is the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation. In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, or essay.
Point of view is a reflection of the opinion an individual from real life or fiction has. Examples of point of view belong to one of these three major kinds:
- First person point of view involves the use of either of the two pronouns “I” or “we.”
- “I felt like I was getting drowned with shame and disgrace.”
- Second person point of view employs the pronoun “you.”
- “Sometimes you cannot clearly discern between anger and frustration.”
- Third person point of view uses pronouns like “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” or a name.
- “ Stewart is a principled man. He acts by the book and never lets you deceive him easily.”
Examples of Point of View in Literature
Example #1: Hamlet (By William Shakespeare)
Hamlet, the protagonist, explains the feeling of melancholy that afflicts him after his father’s death:
“I have of late, — but wherefore I know not, — lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory.”
This is one of the best first-person point of view examples in literature. The use of first-person point of view gives us a glimpse into the real inner feelings of frustration of the character. The writer has utilized the first-person point of view to expose Hamlet’s feelings in a detailed way.
Example #2: Daffodils (By William Wordsworth)
“I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought.”
Notice how William Wordsworth uses the first-person point of view to express his subjective feelings about the scene of daffodils in his famous poem. The use of the pronoun “I” gives a special quality to the feelings expressed in these lines. The reader can see that the poet has employed first-person point of view to share with us his own personal emotions.
Example #3: The Sun also Rises (By Ernest Hemingway)
Ernest Hemingway, in The Sun also Rises, employs the first-person point of view which is peculiar to his style.
“I could picture it. I have a habit of imagining the conversations between my friends. We went out to the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard.”
The use of two first person pronouns, “I” and “we,” gives these lines the quality of having a first person point of view. The reader can feel like he or she is hearing the dialogue directly from the characters.
Example #4: Bright Lights, Big City (By Jay Mclnemey)
“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.”
Here, the writer illustrates the use of second-person point of view with the use of the pronoun “you.” This technique may be less common, but it has its own strength of hooking the reader right from the start.
Example #5: Pride and Prejudice (By Jane Austen)
“When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him.”
“He is just what a young man ought to be,” said she, “sensible, good humoured, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! — so much ease, with such perfect good breeding!”
These lines demonstrate a fine use of the third-person point of view. The excerpt shows the reader two different ways of using third person point of view. Jane Austen first presents two leading characters –Jane and Elizabeth – from the third-person point of view, and then shows us that the two characters are talking about Bingley from their own third-person point of view. This can be a good example of the use of dual third person point of view – first by the author, and then by the characters.
Function of Point of View
Point of view is an integral tool of description in the author’s hands to portray personal emotions or characters’ feelings about an experience or situation. Writers use a point of view to express effectively what they want to convey to their readers.
Narrative Devices: Definition
If that sounds abstract, it’s because it is! To really understand narrative devices, it’s best to learn from example. Skip ahead to the list of narrative devices below.
Narrative Devices Can Help You Win Literary Awards
Before we get into the examples, let me say this: if you’re interested in experimental writing, the cutting edge in fiction and the kind of work that can win you literary awards, narrative device has consistently been the realm in which to play.
Examples of award winning writers who have creatively used narrative device to win them fame and fortune include Stephen Chbosky, Joseph Conrad, Margaret Atwood, William Shakespeare, and even Geoffery Chaucer.
List of Narrative Devices
How will you tell your story? Find the list of narrative devices below:
In a chronological narrative, the events follow chronological and sequential order. Flashbacks, memories, and dreams may also be used to give information and show events to the reader at the right moment, but the narrative soon returns to chronological order of events.
Chronological narrative is by far the most common narrative device, to the extent that it is the default of ninety-nine percent of novels, films, and memoirs.
Reverse Chronological Narrative
Reverse chronological narrative, the opposite of chronological narrative, is when the scenes follow the reverse of chronological order. That is, the story starts at the end and goes backwards, telling the story in reverse order.
Unlike chronological narrative, the reverse is not a common device. The primary example is the Christopher Nolan film Memento, which was hailed as one of the most important films of the early 21st century.
Real Time Narrative
Real time narrative is a version of chronological narrative in which each hour of the narrative corresponds to one hour of events within the story. This narrative device is only available to film (or theater). The primary example of this device is the television series 24.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
The narrator or specific characters (rarely all characters) can address the reader or viewer directly, sometimes referring to them as “dear reader.”
The origin of this device is theater, the fourth wall referring to an imaginary wall between the audience and the actors. By “breaking” the fourth wall, the actors speak directly to the audience.
While first found in theater, this device is also used in other forms, including novels, memoir, and film.
Examples of this device How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (a novel before it was a film trilogy!), Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (also a novel before it was a film), Puck’s final monologue in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and even Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
In my own writing, I used this device in my memoir Crowdsourcing Paris. Personally, I find addressing the reader directly lends a sense of intimacy and authenticity to the narrative.
This device may be combined or even enhanced by other devices.
Epistolic or Diary
Taking the idea of breaking the fourth wall further, the epistolic narrative device (epistolic, as in a letter) or diary narrative device allows the narrator to address the reader directly through a letter or diary format. This is one of the most popular narrative devices in literature, and it has been used in stories ranging from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower to Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.
Another version of this is an oral history narrative device, in which an oral telling of the story replaces the letter or diary. William Faulkner used this method, notably in Absalom, Absalom and The Sound and the Fury. Joseph Conrad also used it in Heart of Darkness, in which a seaman returning home from a voyage relates a story to his crew mates of an adventure gone wrong.
Documentary or Mockumentary
Originating in the reality TV format, the mockumentary narrative device assumes that there is a documentary crew following the characters as they go through the events of their (fictional) lives. This allows characters within the narrative to address the viewer directly through interspersed interviews and occasional moments where the characters look directly into the camera.
The Office is a good example of this device, as well as Waiting for Guffman and This Is Spinal Tap.
Like the epistolic narrative device but for film, this allows the characters to share their inner monologue directly with the audience during the events of the story, something that was not previously possible in film.
Later iterations of this style have removed the conceit of the documentary crew altogether, even as they keep the interviews, like later season of The Office and the show Modern Family.
Story Within a Story, also known as a Framing Story
A framing story is a narrative device in which there is another story within the story that is somehow related. This is device has been used by some of the best writers in history. William Shakespeare was especially fond of it, and included it in several of his plays, including Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Taming of the Shrew, among others.
Story Within a Story Within a Story, also known as a Framing Story Within a Framing Story
Taking the framing story a step further, Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin uses a story within a story within a story to further layer her plot.
Stream of Consciousness
Stream of consciousness is a narrative device and literary style in which the narrative is within the first person narrator’s consciousness. The reader is placed inside the thoughts and perceptions of the main character
Edgar Allen Poe flirted with this style as early as 1843, but it wasn’t until the modernist authors of the early 1900s that the style came into full form. James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust all helped develop this style, and later, more popular authors like Ernest Hemingway made use of it.
Taking this style further, second person narratives like Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City and Audrey Chin’s As the Heartbones Break put the reader directly into the character’s persona, addressing the character as “you,” as if all of the character’s thoughts and perceptions are the readers.
Personally, I used stream of consciousness briefly in my memoir Crowdsourcing Paris in Chapter 10, in which I streamed through two months of writing in cafés.
This device can turn off some readers, something I learned from experience. Some readers loved chapter 10 of Crowdsourcing Paris. They said it was their favorite chapter, the moment that the book flowed the best. Others hated it, saying they found it confusing and hard to follow. For me, though, writing in stream of consciousness has always been thrilling, and one of the easiest ways to get into flow state.
All that’s to say, experiment with stream of consciousness, but be conscious about its affect on your readers.
Which Narrative Devices Will You Use to Write Your Book or Screenplay?
All novels use a narrative device, generally chronological narrative. But just because that is the most popular device doesn’t mean you have to use it to write your screenplay or novel.
What device would fit your story best? If you begin with that question, you should be prepared to make the best decision.
Point of View
Point of view refers to who is telling or narrating a story. A story can be told in three different ways: first person, second person, and third person. Writers use point of view to express the personal emotions of either themselves or their characters. The point of view of a story is how the writer wants to convey the experience to the reader.
First-person Point of View
With first-person point of view, the character is telling the story. You will see the words “I,” “me,” or “we” in first-person point of view. This point of view is commonly used for narratives and autobiographies.
First-person point of view can be singular or plural. The singular form uses “I” or “me” and plural form uses the word “we.” Both are used to give the writer’s personal perspective.
Some examples of first-person narrative include:
- I always look forward to my summer vacation at the beach. I like to collect seashells and swim in the ocean.
- We love walking the dogs in the woods. We all think it is so much fun.
- If it was up to me, I would choose the white car.
- We didn’t want to drive so we took the train to the city and back home.
YouDictionary has many more examples of writing in the first person here.
Second-person Point of View
When writing in second-person point of view, the writer has the narrator speaking to the reader. The words “you,” “your,” and “yours” are used in this point of view. Some common uses for second-person point of view are directions, business writing, technical writing, song lyrics, speeches, and advertising.
Some examples of second-person point of view are:
- In just a few simple steps you can make a big change in your life!
- To make a great chili is you must season it early and often.
- Management is very happy with the progress you are all making.
- You gotta fight for your right to party! – “Fight for Your Right,” Beastie Boys
For more examples see our article on writing in second person.
Third-person Point of View
Third-person point of view has an external narrator telling the story. The words “he,” “she,” “it,” or “they” are used in this point of view. This point of view can either be omniscient where the reader knows what all the characters are doing in the story or it can be limited to having the reader only know what is happening to one specific character. Third person can also be gender specific or neutral, singular or plural.
Third-person point of view is often used in academic writing and fictional writing. Some examples of third person point of view:
- He is a great football player. He scored the most touchdowns this season.
- She was the one who knew all the answers on the test. She had the highest grade in the entire class.
- What they told her was not the truth.
- She heard a loud crash in the middle of the night. She was so scared that she didn’t know what she should do next.
Flashbacks are interruptions that writers do to insert past events, in order to provide background or context to the current events of a narrative. By using flashbacks, writers allow their readers to gain insight into a character’s motivations, and provide a background to a current conflict. Dream sequences and memories are methods used to present flashbacks.
When I went out of the drawing room, the first thing that came into view in the open corridor was the picture of my brother. [I just got the point why my mother used to see that portrait hours after he was killed in WWII, and she left only when she saw any one of us coming to her.] I just heard steps, and when I looked back, there was nothing that I could see. It was just a feeling of the past.
The sentence enclosed in brackets is a flashback. It has interrupted the current event in the form of a sudden thought, giving us an insight into the past of the narrator.
Examples of Flashback in Literature
Example #1: The Holy Bible (By Various Contributors)
The Bible is a good source of flashback examples. In the Book of Matthew, we see a flashback has been used when Joseph, governor of Egypt, sees his brothers after several years. Joseph “remembered his dreams” about his brothers, and how they sold him into slavery in the past.
Example #2: Death of a Salesman (By Arthur Miller)
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman uses flashback to narrate Willy Loman’s memories of the past. At one moment, Willy talks with his dead brother while playing cards with Charley. He relives a past conversation in the present. This demonstrates a character that is physically living in the present, but mentally living in the memories and events of the past.
Example #3: The Cruel Mother (By Anonymous)
Another example of flashback is the ballad of The Cruel Mother, in which a mother remembers her murdered child. While going to church, she remembers her child’s birth, growing up, and death. Later, she thinks back further to a distant time in her past to remember how her own mother was ruthless to her.
Example #4: Wuthering Heights (By Emily Bronte)
Emily Bronte’s famous novel Wuthering Heights starts off with Cathy, one of the main characters, dead. Mr. Lockwood sees Cathy’s name written all over the windowsill, and then has a vexing dream about her. When he talks about the dream to Heathcliff, Heathcliff becomes distressed, and Mr. Lockwood wants to know why the mention of Cathy upsets him.
The flashbacks are means to bring Cathy back to life, so Mr. Lockwood has a better perception of why Heathcliff was so upset. The flashbacks show the development of the love that Heathcliff and Cathy had for each other, and how their poor decisions separated them. It would not have the same effect, if Ellen had only told Mr. Lockwood that Cathy was a person that Heathcliff loved and that she died.
Example #5: Birches (By Robert Frost)
Robert Frost, in his poem Birches, employs flashback. In this poem, a character sees swaying birch trees and says:
“So was I once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be.”
He goes back to the days of his childhood, and then returns to the present and says:
“I’d like to get away from earth awhile, and then come back to it and begin over.”
The narrator remembers and desires for the freedom and joy he experienced as a child, swinging on birch trees, and wishes to return to that moment of his childhood.
Function of Flashback
The use of a flashback is to convey to the readers information regarding the character’s background, and give them an idea of the character’s motives for doing certain things later in the story. Therefore, a flashback in the story deepens inner conflict. It provides stimulus for the conflict, deepens the touching effects, and allows the reader to sympathize even with the villain.
Another function of flashbacks in a narrative is to increase tension. A mere mention of a past event makes readers wish to know the secrets. So, he reads on to find out what the secret is, and how terrible it is that it provides the motivation for the conflict in the story.
Often, the function of flashback in poetry is to convey an idea of the happiness that the poet enjoyed in the past, but presently does not enjoy those pleasures. Poets use flashback to contrast a character’s unhappy circumstances in the present to the happy days of his past.