In fiction, a narrator is a voice or character who tells the story. The narrator generally can be divided into several types.
- "I walked into the room and I saw a man sitting in a chair." (The narrator is a character in the story, usually the protagonist.)
- "You walk into the room and see a man sitting in a chair." (The narrator is narrating the story to another character through that character's point of view.
Rarely, the narrator will narrate directly to the reader, as though the reader is a character in the story; this type of narration is rare outside of interactive fiction. Though it has been used in at least a few popular novels, most notably Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (1979), Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1985), and Tom Robbins' Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994))
Third person, limited
- "She walked into the room, feeling nervous, and saw the man sitting in a chair with his fists clenched and jaw set." (The narrator tells the story from the general point of view of one character; the interior mental state of only one character, the woman, may be described.)
Third person, omniscient
- "She walked into the room, feeling nervous, and saw the man sitting in a chair, who, in turn, felt irate." (The narrator tells the story from as many points of view as necessary; internal mental states of both the man and the woman can be described.)
An unreliable narrator is a character who tells the story but who does not have all the facts, or does not tell the audience everything he knows. Therefore, the narrator may say one fact is true, yet the reader, who is better informed than the character, knows that a different fact is true. Examples include The Basketball Diaries, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye.
A writer's choice of narrator is crucial for the way a work of fiction is perceived by the reader. Generally, a First-Person narrator brings greater focus on the feelings, opinions, and perceptions of a particular character in a story, and on how that character views the world and the views of other characters. If the writer's intention is to get inside the world of a character, then it is a good choice, although a third-person limited narrator is an alternative that doesn't require the writer to reveal all that a first-person character would know. By contrast, a third-person omniscient narrator gives a panoramic view of the world of the story, looking into many characters and into the broader background of a story. For stories in which the context and the views of many characters are important, a third-person narrator is a better choice.