Narratology: Focalization or Point of View

Narratology is a branch of literary theory that studies narrative structure and function. Fiction narratives are communicated through a voice that belongs to the narrator.

FocalizationThe narrator is the fictitious character that verbally transmits the events of the narrative. The narrator can share events from a position outside the story, using the omniscient point of view (POV) of “someone who, for some reason, knows everything about the story” (Freiburg).

More likely, narrators will employ the limited point of view of one or more characters in the story. If so, they’re unable to know anything they cannot see, hear, or otherwise perceive.

Focalization and Focalizers

Choosing a perspective is separate from determining whether the narrator is a character in the story. The term focalization distinguishes between narrative voiceWho speaks?—and perspective—Who sees or perceives? Narration is what is told; focalization is what is perceived (Scott).

There are two kinds of focalizers:

  • An external focalizer is a POV character external to the story. An external focalizer is called a narrator-focalizer because perception belongs to the narrator.
  • An internal focalizer‘s perception belongs to a character within the story. Internal focalizers are also called character-focalizers.

If you’re using an external focalizer as a heterodiegetic narrator, you may tell your story in omniscient point of view. If you employ a homodiegetic or autodiegetic narrator as an internal focalizer, you may choose from second person, distant third, intimate third, or first person POV.

You’re not stuck with only one focalization or POV in your story. You can change focalizers to introduce other POVs. For example, you may have multiple first or third character-narrators, or mix and match POVs from scene to scene or chapter to chapter.

Unreliable Narrators

Not all narrators are reliable. As writer, you may lead readers to distrust what your narrator says. “Some narrators tell deliberate lies or omit crucial information” (Freiburg). One such narrator is Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

Villains may deliberately lead readers down the wrong trail. Other characters, however, may be unable to provide objective information because they’re “naive, insane, unaware, or mistaken” (Scott).

A given narrator’s unreliability can be obvious or hidden, providing only faint hints that something’s wrong.

In the next installment, we’ll dig into the meat of narrative modes.

Source: https://www2.anglistik.uni-freiburg.de/intranet/englishbasics/NarrativeSituation01.htm
Further reading: https://blog.bookbaby.com/2016/03/focalization-smart-writers-never-ignore-it/ by Rose Scott.

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