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Narrative voice

Let’s talk narrative voice. This is really important because the narrator determines the tone and the style of your story.

Most of us know about first person and third person narration.

First person narration is when the book is written from a character’s point of view, usually the main character. Generally the reader has access to all their private thoughts such as in “I woke up with a splitting headache.” This point of view is popular with writers and readers because it allows the readers to have intimacy with the character.  Also remember that as a writer it affects how you approach scenes. You can only include things the character would know. So if your bad guy is thinking about pulling out a gun on your main character you can’t include it. It’s also helpful to know that almost everything written in this point of view is considered subjective and unreliable.

But in this post I want to look more closely at third person narration.

Third person narration is not from a charcter’s point of view and usually takes a omniscient stance over the story. As in “She woke up with a splitting headache.” Readers usually assume that the narrator is the author themselves. This point of view allows for a lot of freedom within the story. The narrator is outside of the action and can go anywhere, look into any of the character’s thoughts and can also give character evaluations which are accepted as being reliable and subjective.

While setting up narrative authority is an interesting idea, modern readers are usually sceptical of it. I imagine that this device would be more helpful in fantasy novels or historical novels where lots of world building is necessary.

Third person can also be used in a limited manner. This is called Third person limited. The third person voice narrates from the point of view of one character, this puts the reader in the character’s shoes. A good example is Tim Winton’s “The Riders”. First the reader sees through the main character’s sensory impressions e.g the house he lives in. The focus then narrows in on the main character’s thoughts which are relayed unobtrusively by the narrator. The information that we are given is from the main charcter’s perspective so we are only given information when he receives it too. Previous information, the history, is only given to us when he thinks of it. So why use this instead of first person? Because this gives the feeling of eavesdropping without the character knowing. it is very intimate and gives the impression of honesty.

Another point of view to consider is the third person shifting narrator.. This is where the narrator shifts from one perspective to another so the reader gains multiple point of views with narratorial presence. Third person can also be used climatically. A good example is in Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume”. The third person narrator is at first the “all seeing eye” that knows every detail of 18th Century France. This detailing sets up authority so the reader can trust the narrator to tell the truth, or give impartial judgements. The narrator then focuses in on a character, the mother of the protagonist, and vocalises her point of view, absorbing her voice. So you see the stinking fish market, the poverty, the drudgery she is subjected to. The book continues to switch through multiple points of view.  This is a beautifully written because the main character is repulsive and by writing through this point of view allows the reader to feel the repulsion from other characters and also maintain distance from the main character so that no sympathy arises.

Last but not least for this post is the Objective Narrator. Ernest Hemingway is famous for it. This is the fly on the wall point of view that relies solely on what can be physically be observed. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”  has very minimal description, in fact only just enough to break up the dialogue. This gives the effect of eavesdropping on a conversation. Stories written this way are good for adapting to film.

Next post I’ll go more into depth with first person narrative and also talk about the strange, experimental second person narrator.

About abcicconemysterywriter

International mystery writer. I write page turning mystery e-books.

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