Narrative Voice: Who Is Telling Your Story?

December 24, 2020

Welcome to the first of five articles about creating a narrative voice.

Deciding who your narrator is going to be is not only vital for you as a creator —because without someone to tell the story on your behalf, you can’t tell it at all—but it will also effect how and why your story is exists at all. This makes narrative voice the most important decision you can make before plunging into the actual writing itself,

Every book has a Point of View, or POV, and the person you chose to be the narrator of your tale is the one through whose eyes (and heart, mind, feelings, and opinions) your readers will experience the story. Generally stories are told from one of three POVs:

  • First Person Limited a.k.a. the “I” narrator—like Katniss in The Hunger Games.
    • “I reached out and knocked over the salt shaker, which upset me.”
  • Third Person Limited a.k.a. the “he/she/they” narrator—like Jonas in The Giver.
    • “He reached out, and knocked over the salt shaker, which upset him.”
  • Third Person Omniscient a.k.a. the “little did he know” narrator—like in Good Omens (whose POV is literally God.)
    • “Aziraphale reached out, and knocked over the salt shaker, which upset him. Crowley thought it was hilarious, and accordingly, laughed until he too fell over.”

You can tell stories from the Second Person POV, a.k.a. the “you” narrator, but it tends to be a very difficult trick to pull off. The Choose Your Own Adventures books are a good example of this POV: “You reach out and knock over the salt shaker, which upsets the volcano monster. Turn to page 34 if you right the shaker. Turn to page 189 if you throw spilled salt at the monster.”

Who is telling the story

When it comes time to choose your narrator—or narrators, if you’re electing to have multiple POVS (more on that later)—you’re basically deciding who is going to be driving the understanding of your story for the readers. Readers will feel, think, and emote along with whomever you choose to be this driver.

So ask yourself: Whose eyes do I want to experience this story through?

The King’s? The slave’s? The servant’s? The dog’s? Whose perspective will not only give you and your readers the best access to most vital moments of the plot, but whose understanding and hegemonic context will give the readers the most interesting and satisfying reading experience? Whose POV might be unusual and refreshing for your genre?

In summary

Every interaction and observation, every moment and reaction, every feeling and physical sensation, everything is filtered through your Narrator character. They take in what is happening, and put it into words for your reader to consume and understand.

You may be the writer, but your narrator is the living, breathing, feeling person that experiences and tells your tale. And it is through that fictional person that the reader lives, breathes, and feels everything that happens in your story.

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Narrative Voice: Who is Telling Your Story? is the first post in a five part series. Continue reading Part 2: Using More Than One Narrator

Also in this series:

Part 2: Using More Than One Narrator

Part 3: Creating a Narrative Voice