RELATED TERMS: Agon; Agonistic politics - Mouffe; Dramatic conflict

Use for Focalization

Focalisation is a valuable concept for narrative environment design because it facilitates consideration of and reflection upon the articulation of dramatic conflicts, both intra-character, as the agony of conscience, and between characters, as agonistic struggle, and also the dramatic reversal of focalisations from one character to another to permit multi-perspectivalism, a useful capability in our plural and diverse world.

Gerard Genette’s narratological model, presented the late 1960s, in Figures, is responsible for establishing the concept of focalisation in narrative studies. Fludernik (2005: 40) suggests that this term has now largely replaced the traditional terms perspective and point of view, but the relationship between focalisation and point of view is more complicated than simple replacement.

Niederhoff (2011) proposes that focalisation “may be defined as a selection or restriction of narrative information in relation to the experience and knowledge of the narrator, the characters or other, more hypothetical entities in the storyworld.” In general, Genette thinks of focalisation in terms of knowledge and information, defining it as a selection of narrative information with respect to what traditionally was called ‘omniscience’. Ryan, Foote and Azaryahu (2016: 20) suggest that the difference between point of view and focalisation is that the former stands for a spatial position from which a scene is observed, irrespective of whether or not this position is occupied by someone, whereas the latter suggests the scene is inscribed in someone’s consciousness.

Genette makes a distinction between focalization and the narrator. Genette refers to the narrator through the grammatical metaphor of ‘voice’. Previous theories had analyzed such categories as first-person narrator, omniscience, and camera perspective under one umbrella term, usually point of view or perspective. Genette considered that such treatments of the subject confused two question: that of who is the character whose point of view orients the narrative perspective (‘who sees?’), the position from which events of the narrative can be viewed; and the very different question of who is the narrator (‘who speaks?’), the point from which the story is told. A single text may contain several points of view or kinds of focalization at different moments in the narrative. In presenting a narrative to readers, an author may use one or more of the three points of view: first, second, and third person.

Genette distinguishes between zero focalisation, on the one hand, and a pair of terms defining restricted points of view, internal and external focalisation, on the other hand. With zero focalisation the authorial narrator is above the world of the action, looking down on it, and is able to see into the characters’ minds as well as shifting between the various locations where the story takes place (‘omniscient narrator’). This perspective is unrestricted or unlimited in contrast to the limitations of internal and external focalization. In the case of internal perspective, the view is restricted to that of a single character; in that of external perspective to a view of the world from outside, allowing no insight into the inner workings of people’s minds.

For Genette, internal focalization refers to a narrative situation where the narrator is external to the storyworld – i.e. heterodiegetic – and talks about the characters in the third person while providing information about the protagonist’s inner, mental life (Lissa, et al, 2016, 44).

The Genettean model is, however, inconsistent, Fludernik (2009) argues, because the reflector character is presented by means of internal focalization but s/he sees other characters under the restrictions of external focalisation. Reflector characters or reflector figures are so called, originally by Henry James, because they ‘reflect’ the story to the reader rather than telling it to them as a narrator persona would.


Bal, M. (1997). Narratology: introduction to the theory of narrative, 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Fludernik, Monika (2005). Histories of narrative theory (II): from structuralism to the present, In: A Companion to narrative theory, edited by J. Phelan and P. J. Rabinowitz. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 36-59.

Fludernik, M. (2009). Focalization, perspective, point of view. In: An Introduction to Narratology. London, UK: Routledge, 36–39.

Lissa, C. J. van et al. (2016) ‘Difficult empathy: the effect of narrative perspective on readers’ engagement with a first-person narrator’, Diegesis, 5(1), pp. 43–63. Available at:

Niederhoff, B. (2011). Focalization. The Living Handbook of Narratology. Available from [Accessed 1 June 2017].

Ryan, M.-L, Foote, K. and Azaryahu, M. (2016). Narrating space/spatialzing narrative: where narrative theory and geography meet. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.