5 Reasons Why Narration Can Work in Fiction

This article is by Anne Marie Gazzolo.

BilboAuthors can use narrators in many different ways to add value to any story. Among them, they can speak directly and indirectly to their audience, inform the readers of things not even the characters inside the story know, give a look into the heart and soul of the heroes and villains, and praise or condemn them for their actions.

Here are five reasons why you should consider using one:

1. Narrators can draw readers into the story.

C. S. Lewis notes, “In King Solomon’s Mines the heroes were shut in: so, more terribly, the narrator imagined himself to be in Poe’s Premature Burial. Your breath shortens while you read it” (“On Stories”).

When done well, you may sit in your bed or favorite chair, but your mind and heart will travel to the mines, or to the battlefield to face a dragon, or to the peace of freshly tilled fields and hobbit holes. You may stand on another planet and look up at alien stars, or you may travel within your own heart.

There is no limit to where a narrator can take you, and your body will follow in some way if guided by an expert.

2. Narrators can bring readers to contemplation of deep matters that real life does not always allow.

Lewis quotes the narrator in First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells as Bedford is outside with the night drawing near and with it the loss of air and heat. “‘Over me, around me, closing in on me, embracing me ever nearer was the Eternal . . . the infinite and final Night of space.’” (“On Stories”).

Lewis notes, “That airless outer darkness is important not for what it can do to Bedford but for what it does to us: to trouble us with Pascal’s old fear of those eternal silences . . . : to evoke with them and through them all our racial and childish memories of exclusion and desolation: to present, in fact, as an intuition one permanent aspect of human experience”.

3. Narrators can offer advice to their readers.

“This of course is the way to talk to dragons, if you don’t want to reveal your proper name (which is wise), and don’t want to infuriate them by a flat refusal (which is also very wise)” (The Hobbit).

“[Lucy] had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

This can add humor to a tale, as in these stories, or it can offer serious counsel, inspiration, and motivation to an adult.

4. Narrators can show the struggles within the heart and soul of the characters.

“[Bilbo] . . . must stab the foul thing, put its eyes out, kill it. . . . No, not a fair fight. He was invisible now. Gollum had no sword. Gollum had not actually threatened to kill him. . . . pity . . . welled up in Bilbo’s heart” (The Hobbit).

Narrators can give their readers insights into the war that goes on in each heart and soul. Possibly no character will know as much as the reader does because narrators can tell their audience what may otherwise be kept silent.

5. Narrators can praise the heroes for overcoming fear and temptation.

“Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. . . . He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait” (The Hobbit).

In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory wins against the seductive allure of eating the magic apple after he sees a bird watching him. “But I think Digory would not have taken an apple for himself in any case. Things like Do Not Steal were, I think, hammered into boys’ heads a good deal harder in those days than they are now” (Nephew).

Perhaps especially for children, but also for adults, it is important to know that fears and temptations can be overcome. It will not always be easy, and there may be failures and backtracks before the final triumph, but readers can see that victory is indeed possible.

These are just a few examples of how vital narrators and stories are to understanding more about ourselves and our world.

Do you agree with these approaches? How have narrators, either as a reader or writer, drawn you into tales as a child and adult?

About the Author:

Anne Marie Gazzolo is the author of Moments of Grace and Spiritual Warfare in The Lord of the Rings, which includes a chapter on The Hobbit. Sign up for her mailing list at www.annemariegazzolo.com and get a free copy of her ebook about applying to your life the lessons taught by Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, Men, and Dwarves. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Pinterest.

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Jake Belsten
Jake Belsten
6 years ago

Anne Marie Gazzolo Jake Belsten  No prob, I may check out The Crystal Cave, it looks like a good book at first glance. It’s interesting, you’re the only person I’ve ever heard say they like watching the movie first, although it is an interesting take on it. One problem I’d have with that though is you experience all the plot twists through the movie when it would always be a lot more special when reading it in a book.

Anne Marie Gazzolo
Reply to  Jake Belsten
5 years ago

Hi Jake, just finished The Book Thief. It’s been on my mental ‘to read’ list since your recommendation, and I thank you so much! What an astonishingly great book! Though not a cheerful subject, it still filled me with joy because you are in the presence of storyteller par excellence. The narrator has such a wonderful way with words that even when the joy turns to heartbreak you still are riveted to the story due to its sheer power. Rare indeed is a book like this that had me longing to return to it when I wasn’t reading it. And the movie was great too which I watched a few months ago, and it was faithful to the book, very refreshing!

God bless and thanks again, Anne Marie 🙂

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

Jake Belsten Anne Marie Gazzolo Indeed, case in point being the disasters that are the Hobbit movies. But now that I’ve had a recommendation for the movie and the book for Book Thief, I am going to have to check them out. I like seeing movies first and then reading so I can enjoy the movie as a movie and then read the book. I’ll let you know, just might be a while. Reading The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart right now which is very narrator driven.

God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

Jake Belsten
Jake Belsten
6 years ago

Anne Marie Gazzolo Jake Belsten  I haven’t been able to see the movie yet, but I’ve heard it’s nothing in comparison to the book. Then again it would be impossible to make a film adaptation that is just as good as this original book. I’d love to hear what you think of it if you decide to read it some time!

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

Jake Belsten Thanks so much, Jake! I am glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 A friend of mine said I would like The Book Thief movie. I shall have to remember to check out the book too.

God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

Jake Belsten
Jake Belsten
6 years ago

Thanks for this great post, very informative/inspiring. I’ve always loved the idea of a narrator, although sadly it seems to be considered old-fashioned and a bit dated now (I think that’s why I like it really, it feels old-timey!).

I highly recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – a brilliant use of narration in that, I think.

Thanks again!

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

devinberglund Thanks! So glad it helped you!

God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

kcmbeck
kcmbeck
6 years ago

Skip Knox Thanks for the tip off about Lord Jim. I am looking forward to reading it. The description of the narration sounds similar to what I’m considering.

devinberglund
devinberglund
6 years ago

This was a very helpful post for me! I am currently in the 4th phase of editing and need to make my narrator stronger.

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

Trick1988 kcmbeck That’s great advice. I just started reading The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, an older book about Merlin and Arthur and this is the same technique she uses.
God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

Trick1988
Trick1988
6 years ago

kcmbeck I am working on something where the MC is the narrator by way of his memoir. He is also a full character and, since he is writing with hindsight, his wiser opinions and more recent knowledge affect how he relays the information. This may not be what your looking for, but I thought it might help plant a seed.
Good luck

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

kcmbeck Glad you enjoyed the article! Hopefully you will get a response to your question because it is a worthy one. I haven’t used one myself in my own stories, so afraid I can’t help.

God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

TraciKenworth I love it too – and not only does not it draw children in, but adults too. 🙂

God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

kcmbeck
kcmbeck
6 years ago

This article is timely for me. I’ve been struggling with the idea of a narrator recently. I’ve read a few times about making the narrator a full character too, but that means they don’t have insight into people’s thoughts unless they are god-like or have ESP. Does anybody know a way around this limitation short of all out story teller mode?

TraciKenworth
TraciKenworth
6 years ago

I’ve thought about trying a narrator. I love the way Tolkien’s narrator makes you feel like he’s right there in the hobbit hole, on the adventures to come. I would like to do this.

Skip Knox
6 years ago

The first thing that pops into my mind is Lord Jim. That’s got narrators inside of narrators. It confused the heck out of me on first reading, but it remains one of my favorite stories. Conrad always had a strong narrative voice anyway.

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

I loved the narrator as well in The Hobbit and Narnia books. They were fun to have and part of the charm of the novels. And you are quite right about revealing the interior struggles of those in the stories.I think they are more obvious in children’s tales to draw the children in more and make them feel part of the story.

Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

Anne Marie Gazzolo
6 years ago

Mike Cairns Thanks so much for your comments and I am glad you enjoyed the essay! 

Namarie (Farwell if you don’t speak Elvish). 🙂 God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

Mike Cairns
6 years ago

Antonio del Drago Mike Cairns  That would be great. Perhaps in a greek god sort of a way, observing until something drags them in against their wishes…

Antonio del Drago
6 years ago

Mike Cairns That makes sense.  I suppose that this is related to the emphasis on “show”, don’t “tell” that is emphasized these days.

Perhaps one way to get around the issues surrounding suspension of disbelief is to make the narrator a fully developed character in her own right, who participates in the story in some way.

Mike Cairns
6 years ago

Hi Tony
I’m just guessing, but I wonder if it’s something to do with suspension of disbelief. For a child, a narrator can seem like a natural part of the story, but for an adult, having this omnipresent voice can make it tougher to get lost in the story… maybe? 🙂

Mike Cairns
6 years ago

Hi Anne
Thanks for this, great post. 
I haven’t yet thought about using a narrator in my books. I think my concern is in letting the narration take away from the force of the characters themselves. I also enjoy the sense of ignorance some characters have within a story, thereby enabling the reader to discover the world along with them. 
However, your reasons are compelling. That idea of contemplation of deeper matters than the characters either can do, or are likely to in any given situation, is a good one. Something to think about.
cheers
Mike

Tony Dragani
Tony Dragani
6 years ago

I think that the use of narration in The Hobbit is very effective. The narrator offers valuable insights into Bilbo’s inner struggle. For some reason, though, narration seems to be used more overtly in children’s books, and is often associated with children’s literature. Why is that?

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