What Is a Narrator? Definition & Examples

Imagine being the invisible force that shapes a story, guiding readers or viewers through a captivating tale. Who could possess such power? In this enthralling exploration, we’ll unveil the enigmatic figure behind every great narrative: the narrator!

Prepare to embark on a journey through the many faces and forms of narration as we unveil the artistry that brings stories to life. Discover how this hidden hero weaves intricate webs of words and images, captivating our imaginations and stirring our emotions.

Get ready to step into the role of the narrator and discover the power that lies within!

Defining Narrator

A narrator is a storyteller, the voice that guides us through the winding paths of a tale, providing structure, context, and emotion. This essential figure in storytelling can take on various forms, effortlessly shifting between the boundaries of character and observer, enveloping us in a world of intrigue, adventure, and mystery.

Their presence, whether subtle or commanding, has the power to create vivid landscapes in our minds, bringing to life the words on a page or the images on a screen.

The narrator’s voice can be as diverse as the stories they share, adopting distinct perspectives to shape the narrative’s tone and trajectory. They may speak as a character within the story, offering a first-person account of their thoughts and experiences, or remain an external observer, weaving tales of the characters from a third-person vantage point.

Sometimes the narrator is all-knowing, privy to the innermost thoughts and secrets of every character, while at other times, they may be limited, focusing on a single individual’s perspective.

Narrators can even surprise us with their unreliability, twisting the truth and challenging our assumptions about the story’s reality. Their influence extends beyond the mere delivery of information as they artfully manipulate emotions, pace, and tension to create an engaging, immersive experience for the reader or viewer.

Regardless of the form they take, narrators hold the key to unlocking the magic of storytelling, a role that demands mastery of language, empathy, and imagination. As we venture into the realms of literature and film, it is through the narrator’s lens that we witness the triumphs and tribulations of the characters, forever bound by the spell of their captivating tales.

Narrator vs. Point of View

The narrator and point of view are related concepts in storytelling, but they serve distinct roles in shaping a narrative.

The narrator refers to the voice or entity that tells the story. It can be a character within the story or an external observer who relates the events, thoughts, and emotions of the characters. The narrator’s role is to guide the reader or viewer through the narrative, providing context, structure, and interpretation of the events.

Point of view (POV), on the other hand, is the perspective from which the story is told. It determines how the reader or viewer experiences the narrative, including the level of access to the characters’ thoughts, emotions, and experiences. The choice of POV can greatly influence the way a story is presented and perceived.

Purpose of a Narrator

A narrator serves various essential functions in a literary work. By recounting events, providing context, and expressing the inner feelings and thoughts of characters, narrators create a bridge between the author and the reader.

Here are some key roles played by narrators in storytelling:

  • Connecting readers to the story: Narrators help readers immerse themselves in the narrative by creating a sense of familiarity and connection. They describe scenes, characters, and situations in a way that allows readers to visualize and empathize with the story’s events.
  • Establishing perspective: The narrator’s point of view establishes a specific perspective from which the story is told. This perspective shapes the reader’s understanding and interpretation of events, allowing them to gain insight into the characters and their motivations.
  • Maintaining story structure: By unfolding events in a particular sequence, narrators ensure that the narrative maintains a sense of coherence and continuity. They also create tension and anticipation, which keeps the reader engaged.
  • Providing context and background: Narrators share essential information that helps readers comprehend the setting, time period, and socio-cultural influences at play in the story. This information enriches the reader’s experience and adds depth and meaning to the narrative.

Through their varied roles, narrators act as fundamental storytelling devices, helping readers engage with the story on an emotional and intellectual level. Their function in literary work is essential to crafting a memorable and impactful reading experience.

Functions of a Narrator

Narrator Provides Perspective

This is achieved through the narrator’s point of view, which can be first-person, second-person, or third-person. Each perspective has its own unique characteristics and influences how the story unfolds.

For example, a first-person narrator offers a more intimate and personal view of the story, while a third-person omniscient narrator provides a comprehensive, objective, and all-knowing perspective.

The Narrator Guides the Readers Through the Story

Another important function of a narrator is to guide the reader through the story by setting the scene, introducing characters, and describing events. The narrator helps to create a coherent narrative and assists the reader in understanding the fictional world.

Additionally, the narrator may utilize various storytelling techniques, such as foreshadowing or flashbacks, to enhance the reader’s experience.

The Narrator Reveals Information to The Reader

The narrator also reveals information to the reader, which may include the characters’ thoughts, emotions, and motivations. This not only deepens the reader’s connection to the characters but also shapes their perception of the events in the story. The narrator’s choice of which details to reveal or withhold impacts the overall structure and pacing of the narrative.

Types of Narrators

Types of NarratorIn BooksIn Movies
First-Person NarratorA first-person narrator tells the story from their own perspective, using “I” or “we” in their narration. This allows readers to experience the story through the narrator’s thoughts and feelings.A first-person narrator often uses voice-over narration or speaks directly to the camera, sharing their thoughts and experiences with the audience.
Second-Person NarratorA second-person narrator addresses the reader as “you,” making them a character within the story and often suggesting their actions and feelings.Second-person narration is rare in movies, but when used, it typically breaks the fourth wall, with a character speaking directly to the audience, addressing them as “you.”
Third-Person Omniscient NarratorA third-person omniscient narrator has full knowledge of all characters, events, thoughts, and feelings within a story, providing readers with a comprehensive view of the narrative.A third-person omniscient narrator in movies can provide voice-over narration, interpreting the thoughts and motives of multiple characters or framing the story with their perspective.
Third-Person Limited NarratorA third-person limited narrator focuses on one character’s perspective, sharing their thoughts and experiences, without the comprehensive knowledge of an omniscient narrator.A third-person omniscient narrator in movies can provide voice-over narration, interpreting the thoughts and motives of multiple characters or framing the story with their perspective.
Third-Person Objective NarratorA third-person limited narrator focuses on one character’s perspective, sharing their thoughts and experiences without the comprehensive knowledge of an omniscient narrator.It can be achieved through stage directions and dialogue, with no access to characters’ inner thoughts, resulting in a more detached and neutral perspective for the audience.

Examples of Narrators in Literature

First-Person Narrator

"The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger

Excerpt: "I was trying to feel some kind of good-by. I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse."
"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Excerpt: "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.'"

Second-Person Narrator

"Bright Lights, Big City" by Jay McInerney

Excerpt: "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning."
"If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" by Italo Calvino

Excerpt: "You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade."

Third-Person Omniscient Narrator

"One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez

Excerpt: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs."
"Middlemarch" by George Eliot

Excerpt: "Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible - or from one of our elder poets, - in a paragraph of to-day's newspaper."

Third-Person Limited Narrator

"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" by J.K. Rowling

Excerpt: "Harry wished he had about eight more eyes. He turned his head in every direction as they walked up the street, trying to look at everything at once: the shops, the things outside them, the people doing their shopping. 
A plump woman outside an Apothecary was shaking her head as they passed, saying, 'Dragon liver, seventeen Sickles an ounce, they're mad.'"
"Emma" by Jane Austen

Excerpt: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

Third-Person Objective Narrator

"Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Becket

Excerpt: "ESTRAGON: (giving up again). Nothing to be done. (Pause.) I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle."
"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen

Excerpt: "NORA: You never can tell what mischief these men may contrive. We ought to be so well off, so snug and happy here in our peaceful home, and have no cares--you and I and the children, Torvald! That is why I beg you so earnestly--"

Examples of Narrators in Pop Culture

First-Person Narrator

"Fight Club" directed by David Fincher

Excerpt: "People are always asking me if I know Tyler Durden... With insomnia, nothing's real. Everything is far away. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy."

Second-Person Narrator

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" directed by John Hughes

Excerpt: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Third-Person Omniscient Narrator

"The Royal Tenenbaums" directed by Wes Anderson

Excerpt (narrated by Alec Baldwin): "Royal Tenenbaum bought the house on Archer Avenue in the winter of his 35th year. Over the next decade, he and his wife had three children, and then they separated."

Third-Person Limited Narrator

"Sherlock" created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat 

Excerpt: "John stepped inside the flat, a sudden wave of nostalgia washing over him. He couldn't help but think about all the adventures he and Sherlock had once embarked on together. From where he stood, he couldn't quite see what his old friend was doing, as Sherlock was buried in his experiments."

Third-Person Objective Narrator

"No Country for Old Men" directed by Joel and Ethan Coen 

Excerpt: "Llewelyn stood in the desert, holding his rifle. The scene before him was a nightmare of carnage. He scanned the area, his face betraying no emotion. A dying man gasped for water, but Llewelyn remained silent, assessing the situation."

Impact of Narrator in Storytelling

Narrator as A Guide

The narrator serves as a guide through the story, providing essential context and offering insights into the events and characters that form the narrative. A skilled narrator can help immerse the reader in the story, painting vivid images and evoking emotions that resonate with the audience.

The narrator’s tone, style, and perspective can significantly impact the reader’s experience, setting the stage for the story and shaping their understanding of the characters and events.

Narrator as A Storyteller

In addition to guiding the reader through the story, the narrator plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative itself. The way a narrator chooses to present events and characters can influence the reader’s perception of the story, subtly guiding their emotions and understanding.

A narrator may emphasize certain aspects of a character or situation, draw attention to specific details, or provide commentary that offers insight into the underlying themes of the narrative. This storytelling prowess can make the difference between a forgettable story and one that lingers in the reader’s memory.

Narrator as A Character

In some cases, the narrator may also be a character within the story, with their own unique perspective and motivations. This adds another layer to the narrative, as the reader must consider not only the events being described but also the perspective from which they are being told.

This can create a sense of intimacy and connection with the narrator, as readers are drawn into their world and privy to their thoughts and emotions. It can also introduce an element of unreliability, as the reader must question whether the narrator’s account is entirely accurate or influenced by their own biases and experiences.

Narrator as A Theme Developer

The narrator plays a vital role in developing the themes and motifs of a story. Through the narrator’s commentary, description, and interpretation of events, the reader gains a deeper understanding of the story’s underlying messages and ideas.

By carefully selecting the details to emphasize or omit, the narrator can create a tapestry of interconnected themes that resonate with the reader long after the story has ended.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can a narrator be unreliable?

A narrator can be unreliable when their account of events or interpretation of characters is inconsistent, biased, or influenced by their personal experiences, emotions, or limited knowledge.

An unreliable narrator may intentionally or unintentionally mislead the reader, adding complexity and intrigue to the story. This can be a powerful storytelling device, as it challenges the reader to question the information presented, decipher the truth, and explore the narrator’s motivations.

Unreliable narrators often create a more engaging and immersive experience, as the reader is actively involved in piecing together the narrative puzzle and deciphering the reality within the story.

How does the choice of narrator affect a story?

The choice of narrator plays a significant role in shaping a story, influencing the reader’s experience, perception, and emotional connection to the narrative. By selecting a particular type of narrator, an author determines the level of intimacy, immediacy, and insight into the characters and events that the reader will be exposed to.

Can a story have multiple narrators?

Absolutely! A story can have multiple narrators, each offering their unique perspective on the characters and events within the narrative.

This approach, known as a multi-narrator or polyphonic narrative, can add depth and complexity to a story by allowing the reader to explore different viewpoints and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the plot.

Using multiple narrators can also enhance character development by showcasing diverse voices, backgrounds, and experiences, which can foster empathy and connection with the reader.

Additionally, incorporating multiple narrators can create narrative tension and intrigue as readers navigate contrasting perspectives, attempting to piece together a cohesive understanding of the story.

Can a narrator’s perspective change within a story?

Yes, a narrator’s perspective can change within a story, although it is less common than maintaining a consistent perspective throughout. Perspective shifts often occur in stories with multiple narrators, where the narrative alternates between different viewpoints to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the events and characters.

This technique can add depth, complexity, and richness to the narrative, as well as generate suspense and intrigue by contrasting perspectives or revealing previously hidden information.

In some cases, an author may choose to shift the perspective of a single narrator as a result of character growth or a change in circumstances. Ultimately, changing a narrator’s perspective within a story can be a powerful storytelling tool, allowing for a more dynamic and engaging reading experience.


The role of the narrator in storytelling is pivotal in shaping the reader’s experience, perception, and emotional connection to a narrative. From the various types of narrators to the choice of perspective, the narrator’s voice can guide the reader through the story, providing context and insight into the characters and events.

Whether it’s a single, consistent narrator or a multitude of narrative voices, the narrator’s presence can enrich the storytelling process by creating intimacy, immediacy, and intrigue.

As readers and writers, it’s essential to appreciate the power and impact of the narrator in crafting immersive, engaging, and thought-provoking literary experiences.

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Aerielle Ezra is an enthusiastic student of architecture who has a wide range of interests, including psychology, lifestyle, and relationships. Apart from her studies, she also likes to engage in athletic activities, particularly volleyball. When she is not playing, she spends her free time watching her preferred sitcoms or reading her favorite books, which include fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.