Narrative techniques are the methods that authors use to tell their stories. When analyzing a novel, it is important to identify these techniques in order to shed light on the ways in which they function in the story. Although there are far too many types of narrative techniques to cover in a single article, there are a few types of techniques that can be found in many novels and are important to think about when beginning a novel analysis.
Point of View
Point of view is the perspective from which an author chooses to tell the story. It determines which characters' thoughts and feelings are accessible to the reader. For example, in the third person omniscient point of view, the narrator of the story is not a character within the story but an authoritative authorial presence who is able to access the thoughts and feelings of all characters. In the third person limited point of view, the narrator focuses on a single character and only has access to this person's thoughts and feelings. In the first person point of view, the narrator is a character in the story who directly relates his or her experiences. In the second person point of view, the narrator directly addresses a "you," the reader, sharing what he does, feels and thinks.
Dialogue is another technique that authors use to tell their stories. Dialogue is direct speech between two characters. Authors often signify dialogue with quotation marks and a dialogue tag like "he said" or "she whispered." Through dialogue, authors are able to create scenes in which characters speak to one another and voice their thoughts and feelings.
Shifts in Time
Authors also use shifts in time within novels as a narrative technique. A flashback is when the storyline jumps backward to show something that has happened before the main events of the novel and that has relevance to the present story. Foreshadowing is when the narration hints at things that will happen but have not happened yet. Authors might also use a frame story, a secondary story that is not the main story of the novel but through which the main story is told. A frame story may, as in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," be a character in the future remembering what has happened in the past. A frame story may also be, as in Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," a character learning of the main story as the reader does.
Another important narrative technique is symbolism. A symbol is a thing that signifies something else. Symbols in novels are often ambiguous. For instance, in "The Great Gatsby," much of the action takes place beneath the eyes of an advertisement. You could argue that these eyes symbolize many things: They might be the eyes of God or the eyes of the reader or the eyes of Nick, the story's narrator. Some readers have even interpreted the eyes as a symbol of consumer culture.
- Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images