Sunday 28 October 2012

The Narrator’s Voice

We have so many choices when it comes to the narrative voice for a piece of fiction.  Should we use a first person narrative or a close third person? Can we have one point of view or should we include several? Is it still all right to have an omniscient narrator or has that totally gone out of fashion?
There is no simple answer and there is a sense in which each text needs the voice that is most appropriate to it. The art is in recognizing what that is and the craft is in getting it right.
In some ways the first person and the close third are more straightforward. They are reasonably easy to keep under control. We know fairly quickly when we’ve drifted away. It’s not too difficult getting them back in line. The voice of the piece will easily represent the viewpoint character and will have his or her personality.
“Who is seeing this?” I sometimes write on my students’ work.
This puzzles them. “The omniscient author, of course,” they reply.
But who is that? And how much will s/he reveal to the reader? How much does he or she actually know in any case? Rarely is the narrator actually the writer of the story.
The omniscient author can be intrusive or neutral. They can be distant from or near to the reader. They can have an overpowering personality or they can be unfathomable to the reader (but never to the author.) But the creator of the text needs to know exactly who it is. They also have to have a fair idea of who the reader is. A consistent voice will then emerge as the writer keeps both narrator and reader consistent.         

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