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Narrative point of view

Narrative point of view

Using a specific kind of storytelling the writer may indirectly influence the subsequent visual design and narration. She may lead the reader’s imagination like a camera leads the audience’s attention in the finished film.

Character-focused storytelling

Character-focused storytelling is formally limited: The audience is quasi attached to the character by having the same degree of knowing.
This narrative point of view is appropriate for creating identification and immersion with a character. The cinematic possibilities and tools (i.e. to tell a story in multiple point of view narration) are deliberately not fully used. Character-focused storytelling is therefore incompatible with suspense and surprise. Instead the audience is simultaneously given each new piece of information as a so-called shared-affect.


The off-narrator provides the audience with background information and through the use of voice-over invites the audience into his mind. The off-commentary may be used throughout the film or just partially. Often a narrator sets the story’s frame or brackets: he introduces the story, steps back and reappears at the end to share his conclusion. In literary adaptations the voice-over is usually a relic of the book on which it is based, providing the film with a unique verbal, poetic or humorous quality.

A third-person narrator does not appear as a character but is positioned outside the character ensemble. This can mean that his narrative point of view is omniscient. When on the other hand he appears in the story as the main, secondary or marginal character his narrative point of view is limited and biased. It will include his character and therewith automatically misjudgement, aversion, sarcasm, glorification, prejudice and sympathy. It constitutes a commentary based on his own interests and interrelations and will therefore influence the judgment of events. Because of this it may be deliberately used for ironically breaking open a scene.

Usually the narrator speaks from memory: He tells a/his story, which lies in the past and made him reach maturity. Therewith he has the option to provide more information than the visual level of a story does, e.g. background information or insinuations. Because of this stories may receive a fateful touch of irreversibility. Furthermore the story is given relevance because it isn’t just remembered but also passed on. The narrator should presently still be involved in the story, so that his telling offers him the chance to reflect on his experience and on what happened, or to live or suffer through it again and start to understand. Not having been able to find closure yet may have different reasons: Maybe he doesn’t know how it ended because he escaped the situation. Maybe the events were so traumatic that he now needs to deal with his trauma. Maybe he’s still puzzled by what happened, e.g. because the murder has never been solved. A trigger for telling the story now may be that the main character just died or that the criminal has just been released from a long prison sentence. The act of storytelling also provides the off-narrator with the crucial understanding that has been missing so far or with information that initiates further action.

The danger of using an off-narrator is to deliver information verbally rather than visualize conflicts and therewith choose the easier way as a writer.
On the other hand off-commentary brings several advantages: by verbalizing events which would otherwise take up a lot of narrative time, the plot may become more focused and therewith move forward more quickly. To demonstrate a development visually one usually needs various images while a verbal summary may take up just one sentence. Ellipses between single scenes may therewith be cemented so that events may be skipped or so that epic time periods of several years may be summarized in short units. Inner processes and motivations may be externalized through the use of an off-narrator. Scenes with huge production costs may be economized. Furthermore it is possible to abolish the chronology of a story by using a narrator: Storylines may be elaborately intertwined or interlaced so that subliminal nexuses are exposed.
An off-narrator may also establish an intimate relationship with the audience as a trusted listener. This may become even more useful when the narrator is the protagonist. This way the audience is able to share his thoughts and emotions.

By telling the story to the audience the narrator makes it inevitably oblique meaning that the audience is no longer able to experience it directly but only indirectly /filtered. While the use of a narrator creates intimacy between narrator and audience it also creates distance between the audience and the story.
In summary: off-commentary may be used for concentration, abbreviation, addition or contrasting of the plot. But it may also have an explanatory, affirmative and redundant affect. If nothing else an off-narrator may be used to cover up production weaknesses or to clarify a plot post hoc.

Multiple point of view narration

Multiple point of view narration complies with the medium film in its temporal and spatial freedom. For a writer this freedom means that she may choose the most dramatically effective point of view at all times. This results in a maximum visual design flexibility leading to an expressive cinematic language or to a formal randomness.

Non-Chronological narration

Non-chronological narration frees a story from its temporal constraints and offers big latitude for the assembly of the film.
A current method is to frame the story, i.e. to subdivide it into frame tales and embedded narratives. In the course of this a story starts with the final sequence or even the final scene. With the use of the embedded narrative it sets a film-spanning cliff-hanger. The end of the story then circles back to the beginning. The earlier scene is now continued to tell the ending of the film.
The analytical narration technique reviews a past event in the dramatic present of the film. Therefore it is preferentially used in crime stories.
Non-chronological narration isn’t just a one-trick-pony allowing only back to front narration, but it may also be simultaneously directed back and front: an established back-story is told alongside the main story and is gradually revealed. The back-story has an effect on the present by providing crucial plot nexus or character motivation and traumas.

Unreliable narration

Unreliable narration deliberately confuses the audience and withholds crucial information. This technique takes advantage of the cinematic ‘evidence feature’ of ‘seeing with your own eyes’ by displaying manipulated but seemingly real images. At a certain point, usually the second plot point, the narration is unmasked as unreliable. Everything that has happened so far is suddenly raised to question, presented in a new light and finally exposed as deception. The film experiences a fundamental reversal. In hindsight with this twist a new film emerges for the audience, turning any previous understanding of the story up side down: the audience has to deconstruct the narration, revise it and retrospectively interpret it in a new way. At the end of this process the story is a completely different one and leaves an unsettling after-taste. Examples for such twist movies or reversals are ‘Fight Club’, ‘The Others’ or several films by M. Night Shymalayan like ‘Sixth Sense’ or ‘The Village’.

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