Character Vs Narrator as Storytelling Concept

These posts are adapted from the 20 minute lessons on story telling presented by Dan at the beginning of our Workshop! Workshop! show.

One idea that’s intuitive to implement in terms of storytelling, is the idea that you as a narrator are separate from the you as a character in your story. But it’s learned implicitly rather than explicitly. So once you realize the mechanic is happening, it’s good to go back and think about why it exists, and how you can play with it.

Character you, vs Narrator you ties in nicely with the various studies discussed in the book Elephant in the Brain. (All links are affiliate links). In that book, they talk about you as your actions vs you as your motivations vs you as storyteller.

The reason this concept is intuitive and easy for us to implement in our stories is that that’s exactly how our consciousness works. We act, and we narrativize the action afterwards. So it makes sense that we naturally tell the stories of our actions from a perspective of a narrator detached from those actions.

So what does this mean for story? What does it mean if you’re telling a story about yourself and the narrator, who is you, (because you are the one narrating the story,) isn’t the same as the main character, who is also you, but it’s you in the story, instead of you as a narrator? How do you know this is true? Well, think about it in terms of time, in most stories you are going back in time when the story happened, but you as the narrator are stuck in the present. For example: if you’re telling a story about going to a restaurant and someone spilling water on you… Then your character doesn’t know that that’s going to happen, but you as narrator do! So you as narrator are making choices about whether you foreshadow the spill, whether you explicitly warn the audience, or wait until it happens.

The narrator can order the sequence of events but the character is always doomed to be surprised by that cold glass of water. The next time you’re working on a short personal story, ask yourself, “What does the narrator know that you as a character don’t and how can you use that to create drama?”

If you want to see a full discussion regarding the relationship between narrator and character, you can check out this episode of Workshop! Workshop! (Discussion starts at 6:40 and lasts for about 15 min.)

Workshop! Workshop! Featured Guest Priyanka Das

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