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August 31, 2018

Narrator; POV; Voice

Again, here's a handout I use in my fiction/prose narrative classes that I thought might be useful to others.

Feel free to use these guidelines in your workshops, post links back here, and refer people to this post. All I ask is that you attach my name to any print outs, quotes, or references, and give proper credit!

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Narrator; Point of View; Voice

Please note: not all people use these terms in this manner. Often "voice" is used to refer to what I'm calling "narrator." But these terms aren't used consistently.

  • Narrator: who tells the story, the immediate “voice” on the page, speaking to the reader
  • Point of View (POV): whose eyes we’re looking out of or whose brain we’re examining – this is not always the same character as the narrator
  • Voice: the “sound” of someone “speaking” on the page.  All writing is verbal language, all writing is a representation of speech (esp. alphabetical writing).  In fiction, a lot of imaginary people (including the Author) are speaking, and all of them have a voice.

Narrator:

  1. First person – the “I” narrator, who is necessarily a character in the story, or in the world of the story. Unless the I narrator is a god or telepathic, he/she is limited to his/her own perspective and can’t get into anyone else’s thoughts (except by imagining them). My mother always told me when I was growing up that patience is the greatest virtue.
  1. Second person – the “you” narrator. This sort of telling sounds more like a command – “you do this, you say that” – and the presumed narrator, the person telling the story, is never named or indicated.  This can be confused with direct address narrative, in which the first person narrator addresses the reader directly, or addresses another character who never appears or responds.  Direct address is actually first person. Your mother always told you when you were growing up that patience is the greatest virtue. (direct address) Let me just remind you, young lady, that it was your mother who always told you when you were growing up that patience is the greatest virtue.
  1. Third person – the “he/she/it” narrator. This is the most common in fiction and has a variety of subsets. The differences among these subsets are a matter of degree:
    • 3rdObjective – not terribly common. This is where the narrator cannot get into anyone’s head or perspective and just tells the story “objectively” seeing only what a camera could see. She walked into the room, looked around, grimaced, and found a seat. The man looked up at her and then back down.
    • 3rdLimited or “close third” – The narrator can only get into one character’s head and remains with that character’s perspective. She walked into the room, looked around grimacing at the shabbiness of it, and thought she might as well sit down and wait. She saw the man looking at her but decided to ignore him.
    • 3rdOmniscient – The narrator is god and can see and know and hear everything everyone thinks, says or does. She walked into the room, looked around grimacing at the shabbiness of it, and thought she might as well sit down and wait. He found her both attractive and repulsive, and wished she had sat closer to him. He looked away. In truth, the agency could have afforded a more stylish waiting room, but wanted to discourage camaraderie between such applicants.

Point of View (pov):

pov ≠ narrator. If you are using a third person omniscient narrator, you may choose to drop down into various characters’ heads at different points. Each time you enter a different head, you are changing pov, without changing narrators.

The pov belongs to the eyes you are looking out of, or the person whose senses or thoughts are being used at that time. You can change points of view in first person by changing the voice, the xtr who is speaking. In second person it’s more complicated. In close third you can switch whichever xtr you’re following, although this then slips into omniscience.

Voice (there are layers of voice):

ACTUAL PERSON: the real person who wrote a piece: this person’s voice is nowhere in writing, rather, this person’s writing is a representation of the person.

AUTHOR: the reader’s image of the person who wrote a piece, the by-line, the Author is no more real than, say, Madonna, or Marilyn Monroe. The Author is a fictional construct.

AUTHORIAL VOICE: the sound of the author’s voice on the page, over the course of several pieces; the author’s writerly personality: “this sounds like something Shakespeare/Woolf/Eggers would write”.

NARRATOR’S VOICE: sound of the voice of the particular narrator for this particular piece. If it is a 3rdperson narrator, it may be confused with the authorial voice.  Don’t be fooled. Each 3rdperson narrator is different, and specific to that piece.

CHARACTER’S VOICE: each important character whom we hear speak or think should have his/her own distinctive voice – the sound of them on the page, talking, thinking; if we’re dealing with a 1stperson narrator who is a character, then this can refer to the narrator’s voice as well

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