Narrator/Character/Author – What is the Difference?

Every work of fiction will have a narrator, the person who is telling the story to the reader. It’s worth noting, however, that the narrator isn’t the author, as some writers mistakenly think, although – and this is where is can get confusing – the narrator can be a character in the story.
This might sound baffling, but in reality it isn’t. It depends on the type of narrator you’ve chosen for your story. In effect, the narrator is an onlooker who is relaying the story of the characters to the reader.
The author creates, the narrator relates and the character lives the story.
The different viewpoints available to writers offer different ways to approach narration. There are number of narrator types to choose from:
The 3rd person omniscient narrator is not usually a character in the story, but is an all-seeing, all-knowing outside observer who knows what all the characters are thinking, feeling and doing, and refers to them as ‘he/she or they’. In other words, this narrator knows everything that is going on in the story.
The 3rd person subjective narrator usually focuses on one or two main character’s thoughts, feelings or actions, and how they see the world. This subjective viewpoint can also be used to show a character who is also the narrator.  For instance, the character might be a secondary who is relating the story of the main character to the reader.  Writers choose to show main characters through the eyes of other characters as an interesting perspective.
The 1st person narrator is usually the main character within the story, because the subject of the story is ‘I’, who is telling the story from his or her point of view. The reader sees everything through the narrator’s eye, but it’s not possible to show other character’s thoughts, which is why it is a limited viewpoint. That said, it’s also possible that the first person is not the narrator. It’s entirely possible for another character to relay the story of a main character instead.
The last one – and rarely used – is the 2nd person narrator. This means the reader is referred to as ‘you’, as though they are a part of story, but because it is an archaic and unwieldy viewpoint, writers hardly use it.
In simple terms the narrator is not the author.  The narrator can be a character in a story, as with a 1st person viewpoint, or a secondary character in a 3rd person viewpoint, that relays the events of the story to the reader.  More commonly, the narrator is an unknown entity who is telling the story of one, two or multiple characters within a 3rd person viewpoint story.
We, as authors, use narrators to describe everything that happens with characters, settings, emotions, conflicts, actions and dialogue. Without the narrator, the reader won’t be able to access the imaginary worlds we create.

We create the story, the narrator(s) tells it and the characters live it.


  1. This really helped me teach my 9th grades how to separate author/3rd person omniscient. They're arts students and value seeing it from a creative perspective. 👍


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