Basic Modes of Narration

For anyone sitting down to write a work of narration, whether it’s a short story, novel, screen play, etc., one of the first decisions a writer must make is a suitable voice for the characters to use throughout the scenes. Narrative mode, also referred to as point of view, is what breathes life into your characters by giving them a position in the world you’re creating; It’s the way you present your character’s actions, feelings, and opinions (in some cases their thoughts), and it’s how your reader will ultimately relate to the story that your telling. Understanding the narrative modes is a helpful tool for any writer from the novice to the experienced, and when used properly, has the ability to separate your writing from the mass of other hopeful writers.

Narrative mode has been reinvented numerous times by countless writers over the years, dividing it into a number of different sub groupings. But even with all of these inversions, the 3 main narrative voices have remained a constant.

First Person – The narrator is a character in his/her own story.

You’ll notice this type of narration by the use of I, me or mine, within the speech. Here, the narrator could be the main character of the story, a secondary character, who has little to do with the action of the story, or a character telling the story second-hand. In any variation, the narrator in the first person point of view must follow all of the standard rules of being a character within the story; they can give only their own thoughts and opinions, unless clearly told about the thoughts of another character.


Second Person – The narrator identifies the main character in the story as “you”.

In second person narrative mode, the narrator refers to the main character as "you,", consequently making the audience feel as if they are characters within the story. 


Third Person—The narrator is an outsider to the story.

In third person narration the main character will always be identified as he, she, or they. It is broken up into to 4 sub groups; subjective, limited, objective, and omniscient.

  1. Third person subjective mode is often referred to as “the over the shoulder” perspective because the narrator, though not a part of the story, has access to the thoughts and feelings of one or more of the characters in the story.
  2. Third person limited mode is characterized by the story being told through the perspective of a single character’s thoughts.
  3. Third person objective, as the name suggests, doesn’t give any of character’s perspectives and instead tells the story objectively. This is the mode used in most newspaper articles. Its referred to as “the fly on the wall” or “third person dramatic” point of view because it is un-biased towards the plot.
  4. Third person omniscient focuses on every character’s thoughts by way of an all knowing narrator. A version of this mode is the universal omniscient, also known as “little did he know” where the narrator has information that the characters in the story do not have.


No matter whom you are, your goal as a writer is invariably going to be to bring forth your own, personal ideas, and a big part (at times even more important) of that process, is choosing the right way in which to voice those ideas. In conclusion, the point of view you chose will play a crucial role in your stories structure and, whether you’re a writer or a carpenter, having the right tools at your disposal will always make the job go smoother.