Choosing the Right Narrative Voice for Your Novel

The narrative voice is the whole voice of your novelChoosing a narrative voice is an important decision authors must make before starting their novels. A novel’s narrative voice is the verbal personality of its narrator and determines how it tells its readers what is going on. Most voices are either third person or first person, and most novels stick with one of these, although some novelists find it effective to use different voices in different chapters.

Third-Person Narratives

These have narrators who are not characters in the novel. Third-person has traditionally been the most popular type of voice, especially for novels with many characters in which no single character can observe everything that happens. Such voices also tend to give readers the feeling that the narrative is reliable. It is important to select a third-person voice carefully, as it sets the tone for the entire novel. Authors who have found their own voice have an advantage here.

Types of Third-Person Narratives

Authors need to decide whether their third-person narrators can describe the characters’ thoughts as well as their actions and how many characters’ activities they can observe. They can tell the story through the point of view of a single character, or different characters in different chapters, similar to first-person narratives while maintaining third-person pronouns and verbs, or be detached and journalistic describers. The most popular type of third-person narrators, however, are omniscient ones, who know both everything that happens everywhere in the novel and all of the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and concealed attitudes. These can also have distinct personalities and attitudes and express opinions about the novel’s characters and events.

First-Person Narratives

In these the narrators are one or more of the characters. This can provide novels with a sense of immediacy and help readers to identify with their characters, but limit the narrative to what that character experiences. Novelists need skill in creating vivid characters with distinctive voices to succeed with these. Special types of first-person narratives include those with narrators who are detached observers, fictional autobiographies, stream-of-consciousness inner monologues, and diaries. Novels can have more than one first-person narrator by changing narrators with chapter changes.

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