Writing 101: The Non-Character Narrator

First-person narratives directly connect the main character of a book with the audience. I am telling you these things, I am relating my story to you as the first-person narrator. But sometimes, the narrator will talk to you, as a reader, even when they aren't a character in the story itself. It can get a little tricky to pull this off, but it can be an effective tool for certain types of stories.

The Way I Heard It...

In a first-person narrative, the main character is directly relating events that happened (or are happening) to them. But you can also directly address the reader using a narrator who isn't even in the story. These narrators are relaying events that they know about, but didn't experience. And yes, it can be pretty hard to write. But there are reasons why you might want to try it.

  • Connection: You create an obvious connection with a first-person narrative. You're directly reaching out the audience to tell the reader something firsthand, but secondhand information can be pretty good, too. A narrator who isn't directly in a story is relating it to the reader, and even if they aren't telling a personal story this can still be a strong connection. Everyone knows what it's like to hear a story secondhand. This is how you hear most stories, in fact. It's relatable and real to receive information this way, so you can still connect to your audience with this technique.
  • Objectivity: A narrator who is telling the events but didn't participate in this has a unique perspective. This allows the narrator to be objective in a way that no character who is actually within the story can be. The narrator can perhaps see and understand things that the people in the story don't realize, and that is an incredibly powerful tool for any author.
  • Point of View: First-person narratives are limiting, because you can only show events through one set of eyes. Your main character can't be a part of conversations that take place elsewhere, or see what people are doing in their private time. A narrator who isn't in the story, however, can see a lot more. This narrator can overhear conversations, spy on other characters in their private moments and generally take readers anywhere within the book, in many cases. That's power, and that's useful in any book.

Try telling a story with a non-involved narrator, and you'll get to tell your story from multiple angles that otherwise wouldn't be available to you.

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  1. what do you think of using the following plot device to explain how things have changed in the future: a person from "today" either somehow gets sent to the future, or wakes up from suspended animation and wakes up in 2115 or later?

    Would that be a good or a lazy way to describe the world he wakes up in and show how it's different from today?

  2. There are many different ways to use time travel in stories, and some of my favorite stories have been written about that subject. I think either plot device will work just fine!

  3. Thank you Jade. I have so many more questions. should I post them here or is there a better way to ask them? I will search your blog too but thought it might be quicker to just ask.