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What's So Important About Voice Anyway?

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Mon Jan 18, 2021 3:42 am
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mellifera says...

If you've clicked on this article, great! If you've done that, and don't know what narrative viewpoint and voice is, well, that's okay! I’ve added a brief overview of what it is, which will hopefully give you a better idea of what I’m going to be talking about today!

A brief summary about narrative voice: What is narrative voice? Well, let’s start with narrative viewpoint! That is, in short, the narrator of your story, the "who" of who (or what) is telling the story. This is most traditionally a character (the Main Character, or MC, who can be but does not have to be the protagonist); however, it can also be a character outside the story. A narrator could also be someone who is simply doing that: narrating the story, without any inside involvement. Narrative voice, on the other hand, operates through narrative viewpoint, because viewpoint will dictate narrative voice. Narrative voice is how you tell a story. The personality of the story, or rather, its narrator.

Now, why is narrative voice important? you may be asking. Now there's the question this article will answer!

Let's start off with the basics. Voice exists in every work that has a narrator. Even this article has a narrative voice! (It's mine. You're reading my narrative voice. Hi!)

So, yes, this includes both fiction and non-fiction, but I'll be focusing on why it's important in fiction (as I am not a non-fiction writer). You can't write a story without a voice.

You probably know how important the development of plot and characters are for your story. Voice can actually impact the tone of that story more than either of those things! For example, if you're trying to write a psychological horror piece, but your viewpoint is that of a goofy, inattentive character, it will impact the tone of the story. The voice, which will be affected by the character's humour and unawareness of their surroundings/environment, is probably not the one you want for a psychological horror piece. On a similar vein, writing a comedy from the narrative viewpoint of someone who is paranoid with no humor probably isn't going to work either, since the voice of that character will impact how the story is consumed. Of course, I'm not here to tell you how to write your story, by all means go for the examples listed above, just keep in mind what story you want to tell, or rather, how you want to tell it.

A narrator doesn’t even have to be a character in the novel! There are such things as overt or covert non-character narrators. These are narrators that exist outside of the story themselves. A good example of an overt non-character narrator exists in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, where the narrator is not a character in the novel itself but narrates with its own opinions and commentary as the events of the novel unfold. A good example of a covert non-character narrator exists in the Lord of the Rings series, where the narrator does get into the characters’ heads while still telling the story with some distance from the characters’ themselves, where they only get to affect the tone of the story in brief intervals.

If you are choosing a character (especially one inside the story, although this can be flexible for a narrator outside the story, and by that I mean not a non-character), voice, like their actions and dialogue, will give the reader insight into that character's personality. Voice helps a reader find common ground with your character if they can relate to that character’s personality. And relatability is ideal, since it gives your readers a reason to like and root for your character. (Unless you don’t want them to! This goes both ways—you can absolutely write an unlikable character, and voice will help you with that too). And if the voice is strong enough, it creates a basis for an emotional connection between the reader and your character.

Maybe by now you're saying, "But mel, how do I choose my viewpoint?" Of course, this wouldn't be any fun if I just answered that for you (and also this is almost impossible, or at least improbable, as I know nothing about your story!). Firstly, keep in mind that the viewpoint you choose for your story will affect the tone and how the story is told.

With that said, here are two questions for you to answer that may help you to choose a viewpoint!

1) What tone do you want this story to have? Dark and cynical? Humorous and light-hearted? Deep and thought-provoking?

2) Based on the tone you want to achieve, which narrator is best suited to tell this type of story?

For example, pretend you are writing a classic fantasy tale. You have a Chosen One, who has to defeat the The Dark Lord™. Maybe you want this story to be inspiring and heroic, so you choose your brave, witty, noble Chosen One to be your narrative viewpoint. Maybe you want this story to be about loyalty, love, and friendship, so instead, the viewpoint is that of the Chosen One's best friend, the kind-hearted, perhaps timid, but devoted character who stands by their side through these trials. Maybe you even want a story about revenge and the darkness of human (or maybe not human?) nature, so you choose your conniving and vengeful Dark Lord™. Either way, the story will be affected by the viewpoint you choose, because each viewpoint will bring its own voice.

Maybe your takeaway from this article is that you want to write a story about an inattentive goofball who's been thrust into a mind-twisting terror factor, or that comedy about someone who's thinks they're being followed and jokes fly over their head. Cool! Let me know how that goes!

I hope that, regardless, you learned why a narrative voice can lead to a strong and engaging story, as well as how which viewpoint you choose will affect the story that you tell.

Happy writing!
I believe in a universe that doesn't care and people that do.

You and I, we are matter, and it matters.


Besides, if you want perfection, write a haiku. Anything longer is bound to have some passages that don't work as well as they might.
— Philip Pullman