“The narrator’s voice is your greatest asset– and your greatest drawback.”
– Orson Scott Card
Choosing the narrative voice for your novel determines who the reader will sympathize with. That means the entire story hangs on the choice of your narrative voice. It can be very difficult to choose the right narrator for your book especially if you aren’t sure what each voice truly does.
I don’t know about you, but trying to figure out the difference between the narrative options gave me a headache for years. But after intense reading and research, I discovered the gold points every author should know and needs to know to properly identify the narrative voice.
If you’re reading this now, it’s because you want to figure out what those narrative voice options are and which you should choose for your story.
So, let’s break down what your three options as a fiction writer are and how these voices work:
1. Omniscient Third Person Narrator
The omniscient third-person narrator flits like an invisible bird from place to place, sharing a distant, unemotional perspective of each character’s POV. Orson Scott Card put it best when he said, “The O.T.P narrator sees the world through the wrong end of the binoculars– readers can see everything but it all looks very small and far away.”
We sit back and watch the lives play out from a distance as if we are a “god” looking down on the lives of mortals. There’s no emotional attachment, simply straightforward presentation of the facts. We watch what the characters do, we don’t experience it.
Easiest way to identify O.T.P:
- Words like “He” “She” “They” or other group references are often used.
- Often used in novels with a large cast of characters
- You are given a wide perspective with little emotional depth
- There are big jumps between time and space in each scene
Pros of O.T.P:
- Offers brevity to your story (meaning it covers great spans of time and a large cast of characters without the use of thousands of pages)
Great examples of O.T.P narrative in fiction: The Scarlet Letter, Love in the Time of Cholera
2. Limited Third Person Narrator
The limited third-person narrator jumps from character to character like the omniscient third-person narrator but provides an up close and personal experience of characters’ lives like the first person narrator. That means each character’s mind is exposed in a deeply emotional way, giving readers the feeling that they are experiencing the character’s world with them.
However, each chapter acts as a clear distinction between each character’s viewpoint. Therefore, in that scene, we only see that particular character’s perspective on what is happening in the story.
Easiest way to identify L.T.P:
- Words like “He”, “She” are used.
- Scene breaks jump from mind to mind of each character.
- There isn’t a huge jump between space and time between each scene break
- Emotion of characters is the focus
Pros of L.T.P:
- Emotional relationships are built between readers and characters
- Allows for more storyline options
- Easily allows for a clean writing style.
Great examples of L.T.P narrative in fiction: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pride and Prejudice
3. First Person Narrator:
The first person narrator is the one and only perspective readers experience throughout the entire novel. This narrator is not you, it’s the voice of the character you choose. The story is happening to the narrator, so the narrator is almost always the protagonist. Likewise, that means he must be present for every key scene in the novel.
The F.P. narrator’s voice should not be aware of why things happen. That means he wouldn’t have answers, but questions. Likewise, he wouldn’t describe things he does as “heroic”, “cowardly”, or “clever”. You would simply show him doing a heroic, cowardly, or clever act.
Easiest way to identify F.P:
- Words “I”, “My” are used.
- The story is one continued perspective of one character
- The story happens to the character in present or past tense.
Pros of F.P narrator:
- Is naturally accommodating of comedic writing styles
- Offers a factual, less fictional presentation of the story
- Follows one character through a growing experience
- Can show emotional depth (but not as profoundly as L.T.P does)
Great examples of F.P narrative: To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, The Hunger Games
Now that you have the most basic, pure understanding of what these narratives are and how they differ, how do you then decide which is right for your novel?
Choosing the right narrative voice doesn’t have to give you night terrors. In fact, choosing the right narrative voice for your novel really comes down to the message you want to send to your reader. And the message will depend greatly on the character(s) you want your reader to sympathize with.
In next week’s blog post, discover how to choose the right narrative voice for your novel and how that choice will affect the message you send to your readers.
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