Elements of Narrative Art in Writing

Elements of Narrative Art in Film

Narrative Point of View

Narrators and characters,..., are essentially 'paper beings'; the (material) author of a narrative is in no way to be confused with the narrator of that narrative. ....who speaks (in the narrative) is not who writes (in real life) and who writes is not who is.--Roland Barthes, "The Structural Analysis of Narratives."
All stories are narrated from a point of view. There are basically two points of view from which to tell a story: either from outside the story or from inside the story-- an External Narrator or an Internal Narrator.

As Roland Barthes so clearly articulates, a Narrator, whether Internal or External, is never to be confused with the Writer. Narrators and characters are "paper beings"--strategies writers use to tell stories.

The External Narrator

Narration from outside the story is easily recognizable because the story is written grammatically in the third person: he, she, they--which is why the External Narrator is often called the Third-Person Narrator.

The External Narrator can:

The presence of this Narrator is Overt--clearly differentiated from the characters in the story-world. Examples: Don Quixote, Tom Jones, The Death of Ivan Illych; Haruki Murakami, "Tony Takitani".

Two major variations of External Narration minimize the Narrator's presence by making him Covert rather than Overt.

Uniqueness of the External Narrator

The External Narrator can do what is impossible to do in real life--enter directly into the minds of other human beings. In actual life, we know other people only indirectly--through their words and actions. As R.D. Laing said: "I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another." Only in the make-believe world of Third-Person Narration can the Narrator present transparent minds, making the invisible, visible.

Dorit Cohn in Transparent Minds defines three basic ways the External Narrator renders consciousness transparent.

The Internal Narrator

The Internal Narrator is a character within the story he or she is telling. Frequently called the First-Person Narrator because the story is told by a character who uses "I". The two variations of First-Person narration are:

Uniqueness of the Internal Narrator

A First-Person Narrator tells his own experience of the world; the story-world of characters and events is filtered through his consciousness alone. First-Person narration is a form of conscious consciousness--the self articulating what is in the mind. The First-Person Narrator is restricted in his knowledge of other characters. He does not know directly the minds of other characters like the External Narrator does. He knows the other characters in the same way that the reader knows other people--only indirectly through his interpretation of their words and actions.

Narrative Structure

What is the narrative structure? A single story told in chronological order? Multiple story lines? Achronological narrative? What are the major sections of the narrative? Are the parts indicated by chapters, sections, blank spaces between paragraphs? How are the parts related to the whole?


The setting is the context of the action. Where and when the events of the story take place. Setting frequently takes on symbolic meaning.


Who is the central character? Who changes during the course of the events?


A symbol is a detail in the story that suggests meaning beyond itself. Context determines symbolic meaning. Some symbols are conventional: The Country vs. The City; Black Hats vs White Hats. A story detail--a gesture, an object, a piece of dialogue--becomes symbolic through repetition.


The theme is what the story is about, the issues it investigates, its meaning. The story's point or message.

Examples of Short Fiction Analysis

Resources for the Study of Fiction

John Hartzog