Narrative Part 2: Storytellers

A “storyteller” is a character in a story who is actively participating in the telling of that story.

You’ve heard of a few – a “narrator,” for instance.

If you’ve decided to utilize a storyteller, there are a few things to consider. Questions you need to answer:

Narrator? Or internal monologue?

What’s the diff?

A “narrator” is a character speaking over the events of a story.

Usually divorced from the normal flow of time. We see narrator examples in Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption.

An “internal monologue” is when the audience can hear the thoughts of a character, as they happen, in real time.

We see internal monologue examples in Adaptation and Dexter.

If your storyteller is a narrator…

Are they speaking in first, second, or third person?

First person – a character talking about his or herself.
“I have a pervasive fear of weddings. But when offered free booze, my ailment becomes manageable.”

Second person – a character talking to a “you.”
“You never seem to remember which kid is which. But you always seem to get it together when Kelly’s in town.”

Third person – a character talking about someone they’re indirectly involved with.
“That big guy over there is Johnny Macaroni, named after his love of elbow shaped pasta smothered in cheese.”

Establish if your narrator is inside or outside of the story.

Are they an active character in the story? Like what we see in Interview with the Vampire?
Or are they outside of the story as an omniscient voice? Like what we see in Vicky Cristina Barcelona?

Is the narration justified or unjustified?

“Justified” would mean there is a reason within the story that the narrator is saying what they’re saying. They’re writing a memoir, pouring their heart out in a diary, or telling their life story to someone on a park bench. We see these types of narrators in Stand by Me and Forrest Gump.

“Unjustified” would be when there is no justification for the narrator speaking, they just are. Like in Spider-Man or Savages.

When deciding between the two, justified always seems a bit better.

Is the narrator speaking in the past tense? Or the present tense?

It’s a small difference, but it communicates to the audience whether the story is over and done with – or if it’s happening right now.

Does the narrator acknowledge the audience directly or indirectly?

Directly acknowledging the audience, would be like what we see in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He’s speaking straight into the camera, talking directly to the audience.

Indirectly acknowledging the audience, would be like what we see in American Psycho. He isn’t directly speaking to the audience, but he is speaking as though someone is listening. He’s not talking to himself.

Is it verbal or text?

Most narrators are verbal – we hear them speaking to whoever their intended audience is. But some narrators can come in the form of text. Especially prologues and epilogues.

A classic example would be the opening text crawl in Star Wars.

Whatever form your storyteller takes, they can be a very important and necessary part of your story.

Any story with a large sprawling scope, that spans a great deal of time, usually needs a storyteller to tie it all together.

Or, if you’re looking to create a particularly intimate connection between a character and your audience – utilizing that character as a storyteller themselves is a great way to go.

Just keep in mind that storytellers can be tricky. It’s real easy to screw it up. The storyteller device is most often utilized in novels. So when bringing it to screenwriting, you’ve got to have a subtle hand to pull it off.