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Narrators can change the way you experience the story for better or worse.

book burning

When you google “narrator definition” this pops up.

The encyclopaedia Britannica defines it a little differently: 


In the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling the reader thought that Snape was the bad guy because Harry (the narrator) saw him as the bad guy. In the end we learned that Snape was always protecting him… *spoiler alert*

Snape protecting Hermione, Ron and Harry from a werewolf in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Let’s look at the different kinds of narrators.

The omniscient narrator knows everything that’s going on – this includes the feelings, motives and actions of everyone involved in the story.

The limited third person narrator is much more believable – though this narrator can see everything that’s going on, the tale is still tainted with how the main character is experiencing it.

Think Harry Potter – sometimes the reader just follows Harry’s lead even when they’ve read that a magic mirror can be used to contact Sirius they go with Harry to use floo powder…

The first person narrator – something seen a lot in Young Adult novels – only narrates what’s important to the main character and sometimes misses what’s happening around them. This narrator is sometimes a naïve narrator (see below).

Think Bella from the Twilight saga – she doesn’t even realise how her actions affects everyone around her. And the reader misses it too…

The reliable narrator has a credible, authoritative voice and the reader is assured of knowing everything that they should know.

The unreliable narrator only has limited knowledge of what’s going on around him.

Harry Potter has been accused by some to be an unreliable narrator (mostly because of his faulty presumptions like the example above.)

Of course, there are different kinds of unreliable narrator.

Like the naïve narrator who has no clue what their story is really about because of their innocence and inexperience.

But there are worse kinds of unreliable narrator…

Narrators serve as filters for stories. What narrators do not know or experience cannot be shown to the reader. The first-person narrator is powerful because that viewpoint is the only one we have to judge the events on the page. The reader believes that the narrator will be truthful and provide an accurate account of the story.

When we have an unreliable narrator, the reader cannot trust his or her version of the story.

These narrators may be insane, angry, strung-out on drugs or alcohol, naïve, foreign, criminals, liars, or simply younger than everybody else. They can be comical or absurd, tragic or serious, terrifying or surreal. The one thing they have in common is that they are deceptive.

If unreliable narrators are badly crafted, they can be obvious, manipulative, misleading, confusing and pretentious. If they are well written, they can be powerful, clever and fascinating.

Here are nine types of unreliable narrators: 

  1. The child.
  2. The outsider.
  3. The crazy.
  4. The crazier.
  5. The craziest.
  6. The innocent.
  7. The criminal.
  8. The ghost.
  9. The wilful liar.

To see the descriptions of each kind of unreliable narrator, go to Writers Write.

This from one of the craziest unreliable narrators… Check out Fight Club if you don’t believe me.

In most narratives, there’s an element of trust that the person telling you the story is telling the truth, at least as far as they know it.

A consistent and sincere testimony may prove Unreliable if coming from a perspective of personal bias, or conclusions drawn from incomplete observation. If the narrator has honestly misunderstood what’s going on due to naivete, inexperience or just lack of information, it’s Innocent Inaccurate.

A consistent and sincere testimony may prove Unreliable if coming from a perspective of personal bias, or conclusions drawn from incomplete observation. If the narrator has honestly misunderstood what’s going on due to naivete, inexperience or just lack of information, it’s Innocent Inaccurate.

To see examples in all media forms, go to TV Tropes.


But it isn’t just modern stories that are affected by the narrator. Folklore, folktales and fairy tales are also susceptible to the narrator’s flaws.




– From Folklore in British Literature: naming and Narrating in Women’s Fiction, 1750-1880 by Sarah R Wekefield “Folklore provides a metaphor for insecurity in British women’s writing published between 1750 and 1880. When characters feel uneasy about separations between races, classes, or sexes, they speak of mermaids and -Cinderella- to make threatening women unreal and thus harmless. Because supernatural creatures change constantly, a name or story from folklore merely reinforces fears about empire, labor, and desire. To illustrate these fascinating rhetorical strategies, this book explores works by Sarah Fielding, Ann Radcliffe, Sydney Owenson, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Anne Thackeray, and Jean Ingelow, pushing our understanding of allusions to folktales, fairy tales, and myths beyond -happily ever after.-”


Of course, telling the story can get a little complicated.

Storytelling is the social and culture activity of conveying stories in words, sounds, and/or images, often by improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view. The term ‘storytelling’ is used in a narrow sense to refer specifically to oral storytelling and also in a looser sense to refer to techniques used in other media to unfold or disclose the narrative of a story



In fact the question of originality in oral literature is by no means a closed one. Contrary to the assumptions of many writers, the likelihood of stories having been handed down from generation to generation in a word-perfect form is in practice very remote. This whole concept, in fact, is much more plausible in the case of written than of oral literature. As already remarked in an earlier chapter, one of the main characteristics of oral literature is its verbal flexibility (even more marked, perhaps, with prose than with some types of verse). So that even if the basic plot did, in a given case, turn out really to date back centuries or millennia—and in one sense it is a truism that all stories (written or unwritten) have already been told—this would be only a very minor element in the finished work of art produced in the actual telling. The verbal elaboration, the drama of the performance itself, everything in fact which makes it a truly aesthetic product comes from the contemporary teller and his audience and not from the remote past.

– From the book Oral Literature in Africa by Ruth Finnegan


– From the paper Two Features of Oral Style in Maori Narrative by Agathe Thornton, University of Otago


The Roles of Participants in a Storytelling Event by Barbara Ivančič Kutin


All this research tells me that when a narrator feels that something is inappropriate or just doesn’t like it, they’ll change it slightly to conform to their own sensibilities.

A great example is how the stepsisters in the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella maim themselves (cutting off parts of their feet) to fit into the slipper. If you grew up with the Disney version, you only remember that their feet were too big and they tried to hide it beneath their dresses. Well, perhaps six-year-olds should see women cutting off parts of themselves to fit expectations… Mm…


I think I might have a problem with the narrator in my series Stories on Scrolls. The Hunter comes from a world where magic is outlawed. She found a chest of scrolls filled with stories about the past where magic was openly used. She translates this to the reader, mostly keeping herself out of it. Or does she?


“I’m hiding out in a castle ruin, reading through these scrolls and wondering whether I should be as proud as I am to be a Hunter. Especially after the chest had released a curse that killed everyone else present. Except for the Remarkably Ungifted One and myself. She fled, probably going underground never to return.” – Preface, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren


hunter scroll soft artistic


“Nothing I’d read in the three scrolls pertaining to the paladin and his problems seem to make any sense to me.” – An Aside: The Hunter’s Heart, Stories on Scrolls, Ronel Janse van Vuuren


I’m sure the translations of these scrolls hold a bit of the Hunter’s bias against magic even if she’s trying to be as honest with herself (and the reader) as she can possibly be.

I hope you enjoy reading the preface and the latest instalment in the series. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. What do you think of narrators? Do you think they affect the story positively?

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