How to Narrate a Story in Writing (First, Second, Third Person Limited and Omniscient Narrative)

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  • Post last modified:April 24, 2021
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How to Narrate a Story in Writing (First, Second, Third Person Limited and Omniscient Narrative)

So you have a great story idea but yet confused about how to start writing and narrating it. Well narrating a story in writing just follows POV (point of view). Once you understood how to use the POV you are ready to narrate your story in writing.

A loose story with a weak plot but a great narrative can be a bestseller compared to a great story with a weak narration.

So a strong narration plays a very important role in the success of any story.

Related: Best Books for Writers on Writing

Before we begin lets define narration?.

Narration: The act of conveying a story, either real or imaginary to an audience in writing or speech is termed as the narration and is also called storytelling.

Used in novels, short stories, poems, memoirs, etc. narration is done by a narrator: a specific character from the story, unspecific literary voice, or by the author itself.

Now you might be wondering whether films, plays, television shows, serials, etc. follow narration and the answer is mostly they avoid narration and prefer to tell the story through dialogue exchange between characters, but some movies most often the animated films for children follow both narration and dialogues.

Do Read: How to Name Your Main Character In 60 Seconds

How to narrate a story in writing: Step by Step

Step 1- Decide a POV (point of view) for your story.

Step 2- Start writing from the perspective of the chosen character’s POV.

Step 3- Establish the POV from the beginning of the initial paragraphs.

Step 4- Narrate your story using the proverbs of the selected POV.

Step 5- Read a story written and narrated in your selected POV to write a better narrative.

Use of First Person, Second Person, Third Person Limited and Third Person Omniscient Point of View in Narration.

  • Now lets understand everything thoroughly.

To start narrating a story first you have to understand the basics of narration which is selecting a POV (point of view) for the story.

As I said earlier; “the narration of any story starts with a point of view”. Without a point of view in a narration, any work of literature or creative writing will not make any sense.

What is POV (Point of view)?

Point of view refers to who is narrating or telling the story or from whose perspective the story will be told or delivered to the readers.

A story can be told from the point of view or perspective of:

  • First person– In first person point of the story is written and told to readers using ”I” or ”We” pronouns.
  • Second person– In second person point of view the story is told using you or your pronoun.(the second person POV is rarely used in narrating a story and mostly seen in blog post, like this blog article which you are reading right now)
  • Third person– In third person point of view the story is told using he, she or they pronouns.
Major pronouns for POV

POV plays an important role in the narration of any story and works as the framework behind the writing of a story and to narrate a story effectively writers must need to choose a suitable point of view for their story.

Narration and point of view, what’s the difference?

Narration and point of view are not the same things but both are linked to each other like the two sides of a coin.

Understand this in simple words, So if someone asks you to narrate a story on your own life (autobiography), how will you write and narrate? you will simply narrate the whole story of your life from your point of view, from your own perspective, what you experienced, felt, or thought about your life.

Do Read: How to Describe Happiness in Writing

But if I ask someone else to write a story on your life (biography), then the third person basically will narrate it from his point of view and perspective of what he knows and feels about you and your life.

In both cases, we will get two different stories because in both cases the narration contains the point of view of two different people.

So narration simply means telling a story to an audience and point of view presents the perspective used in telling the story, it can be either of a character from the story, writer itself as a character in the story (first person pov), or an unknown narrator, a third person from outside the story (third person pov).

The Three Major Point of View in Narration.

All works in literature either novel, short stories, poems, prose and even songs are written from a point of view

For writers, every work of fiction writing starts with choosing a point of view for their story and the choices are made between first person, second person ( rarely used), third-person limited, or third person omniscient.

  • First person– Most often the main character tells the story using ”I”.
  • Third person limited– The narrator is not in the story and telling the story about he ,she or they and is limited to the thoughts and feelings of certain characters.
  • Third person omniscient– Again the narrator is outside the story and narrating the story using he, she, or they but here the narrator knows everything and everyone. The narrator can feel and read the thoughts of all characters in the story narrator.

*second person (this is rare in narration and only used for writing blog posts,etc.)

Now let’s understand all of these points of view in narration thoroughly.

First Person narrative:

The first person narrative is a way of storytelling in which the storyteller or the writer of the story narrates every event of the story from the own point of view of the main character using the first person pronouns I, me, or we,.

Examples of first person pov-

  • I tried hard to find her but never succeeded as she had left the country and later again after four years I saw her on the streets of New York.
  • we were so excited to start our adventurous trip but suddenly the plan got changed.
  • It was my first trip outside the country but soon after the flight landed I get into trouble as I had lost my passport.

How to write in the first person?

Most often in this narrative technique, the writer narrates the whole story from the perspective of the main character but they can also choose another character like any important character from the story or even a less important character who is witnessing events or a person retelling a story told by someone can be used as the storyteller of the story.

In this narrative style, the character depicts every incident and events which will happen or had happened in the story. So the reader enjoys the whole story from the chosen character perspective who is most of the time the protagonist of the story.

 So It’s like the reader sitting in the head of the main character and enjoying the whole story and going with him to witness everything, every incident, event, and adventure, feeling his/her emotions and wherever he or she takes us.

Examples of First Person POV from books-

  • To kill a mocking bird by Harper Lee

In his novel ‘’To kill a mocking bird’’ Miss Harper the author of the novel narrates the whole story from the character Scout’s point of view. Jean ‘’Scout’’ Finch acts as both narrator and the main character in the story.

Atticus was feeble: He was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old He said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness.

In the above sentences from the story, the author has presented the perspective of a six-year-old girl Scout who is calling her father “feeble’’ because his dad is nearly fifty.

Here the author narrates the story from the mouth or perspective of the main character Scout as she uses the First Person (I, we, our, and my) and presents the point of view of the main character, and readers get to understand the thought process of the main character.

  • The faults in our star by John Green

In the novel, The faults in our stars, John Green write the story using the point of view of a 16-year-old girl and protagonist, “Hazel Grace Lancaster” who narrates the whole in first person narrative but limit the readers to her perspective only of what she feels, sees or thinks.

”Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house,..”

In the above line from the first chapter of the novel the author uses my and I first person pronouns to write the story narrating it from the main character Hazel’s perspective.

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Another great example of first person point of view, The Hunger Games is narrated from the point of view of the main character Katniss Evergreen

Exceptions in First Person POV

Exception 1- First Person Peripheral POV

The story is narrated the same as first person pov using pronouns I or We but this time the narrator is not the main character but another major or important character from the story who is closely observing the main character. 

Example of the first person peripheral pov-

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Written in 1925 by an American author, The Great Gatsby has been termed as one of the greatest novels ever written by many literary critics.

The novel follows the story of a young and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, the protagonist but narrated from Nick Carraway’s perspective, the next-door neighbor of the protagonist and one of the major characters in the novel.

The readers can dive into the thoughts of Nick Carraway and can enjoy the whole story through his perspective and whatever he experiences in the story.

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is another example of first person narration using the point of view of the minor character observing the main character.

Exception 2- First Person Omniscient POV”.

The rarest form of narrative in which the narrator ”I”, a character from the story knows the thoughts and feelings of all other characters.

An example of first person omniscient pov includes ‘’The Book Thief’’ by Markus Zukas, this work got the author man booker prize, the narrator is ”death” in this book. 

Third Person narrative:

The writers use an anonymous narrator who narrates the story from the point of view of a character within the story.

The story is narrated using he, she or they pronouns or either directly referring characters from their names.

The third person narrative doesn’t require the narrator to be part of the story or a specific character from it.

Writers can easily narrate the whole story without explaining to the reader’s anything about the narrator of the story or even his/her existence. 

The Third Person narrative contains two types of pov: the third person limited and third person omniscient.       

Third Person Limited-

Narrated using an anonymous narrator following one character perspective most often the protagonist, the main character.

Called the third person limited because the reader is limited to the thoughts of only one character.

This is the most common use of narrative style in the modern world and mostly used in commercial fiction.

Example of Third Person Limited POV-

  • Eric thought he would easily forget Rebecca after the breakup but he soon started missing her desperately.
  • Sam was no longer interested in finding the treasure of his father when he found out that he had looted it from someone.
  • She was so focused on her dreams and ambitions that she never got any time to think about anything else.

Examples of Books following Third Person Limited POV-

  • Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

J.R Rolling used third person limited point of view in writing all the seven Harry Potter books making Harry the center of all story.

Harry sat and examined the jagged piece on which he had cu himself seeing nothing but his own bright green eye reflected back at him.

In the novel, the narrator is limited to the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of Harry Potter, the central character of the story.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

In the novel, Leo Tolstoy uses a nameless narrator who presents the story of Anna and Levin, the main character of the novel, and describes the feeling and thoughts of both these two characters.

Third Person Omniscient:

In third person omniscient narrative the narrator has complete access to all the character’s thoughts and feelings, he knows everyone and everything, he knows what any character is feeling or thinking.

The God Narrator

There are lots of great examples that follows the third person omniscient narrative like Jane Austen Great classic Pride and Prejudice, George Orwell 1984, George R.R Martin’s epic A song of ice and fire, and many more.

The best part of third person omniscient narrators is they are reliable in telling the story. The readers can trust his words and whatever depicting from the story.

Example of Third person Omniscient POV-

  • Everyone in the group was so excited after visiting the old hotel but Smith, Justin and Rachel were scared through some supernatural events which started happening after their arrival.
  • After facing humiliation at the college Jim and Noah planned to take revenge on Benee but they didn’t know Benee had also planned to do something evil.

Example of Books following Third Person Omniscient POV-

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
  • The old Man and the sea by Ernest Hemingway.

The problem of Reliable and Unreliable narrators in First Person POV-

In first person narration, there is a problem of unreliability meaning the narrator who is narrating the story is not necessary to speak only the truth to the readers.

For example, let’s say your protagonist (the main character) in the story is a very egoist person and is jealous of every other character in the story so do you think using first person narrative and taking the perspective of this egocentric character who just tries to defames every character in the story will speak the truth and present the real story to its readers so these are called the unreliable narrators who can’t be trustworthy to the readers as a narrator so most often writers chose third person narrative    

So which narrative OR POV to choose for writing a story

It is hard to choose which POV to write your beloved story as it all depends on you and the demand of your story and in which point of view or narrative you can describe and narrate your story better that can bring more life to your story and can be more enjoyable and pleasing to your readers.

Watch the below video by TedEd to know more about which point of view to choose.

What’s the best point of view

When you start writing your story make sure you have established the narrative style of your choice or the point of view within the first paragraph of your story.

Preferred point of views for some genres

  • Romance- First person and third person limited.
  • Mystery and Thriller- Third person limited.
  • Fantasy- Third person limited and omniscient.
  • YA Fiction- First person and third person limited.

Source: Reedsy, Point of View: The ultimate guide

Can I have multiple points of view in writing a story?

Yes, you can have multiple points of view and I myself used multi first-person narrative in narrating my first short story ‘’the drunken ghost’’, in that short story the main character a little boy asks his grandpa to narrate him a scary story and the grandpa of that kid narrate a horror story in first person POV and the main character too uses first person narrative in the whole story so using a multiple first person narrative can be a great idea if you can implement it correctly otherwise it can also damage the whole framework of a story and can easily make it very confusing and messy for readers to understand but keep in mind do not switch between the narrative point of view every time while writing create a reasonable.

Want to know more about point of view in narration that do read this great blog Point of view in 2021 by the write practice.

Neel Rana

About the Author- Neel Rana is a successful short story book author, flash fiction writer, literary enthusiast, entrepreneur and the founder of Pandora Post. Neel holds a degree in BA Honours in English Literature and has been writing since 2017. You can read more about him here