Narrative voice sets the tone of the novel and gives it a ‘personality’, aside from the characters and plot. It is an important element of writing to get right, and there are several things to consider when creating the right voice…
Point of view is perhaps the most vital aspect of narrative voice, and is probably one of the first decisions you’ll have to make in this respect. Do you want a reliable narrator or an unreliable one? Third person or first? Omniscient or limited?
Of course, there are things that will help you choose a point of view.
For example, if you want to show your main character’s direct thoughts, then a first-person narrator might be your best bet. Just bear in mind that you’ll be limited to writing about what that character thinks and witnesses.
If you want to show events that occur without the main character present, then it may be worth considering using third-person narration to show the viewpoints of different characters. An omniscient viewpoint is the most liberating option, and doesn’t limit what the narrative voice can see or think. However, it’s worth noting that this style of narration can make it difficult to let the reader into the thoughts of the characters, and changing point-of-view characters too frequently can become jarring and confusing to the reader.
A risky and less common option is a second-person narrator. This is great for allowing the reader to witness events in the narrative as themselves, but also makes it hard for them to become lost in the narrative, as they are constantly reminded that they exist as an outside witness.
You should play around and see where the plot takes you to figure out which point of view strikes you as the best to use.
Sensibility is perhaps a more overlooked aspect of narrative voice. To capture a character’s sensibility, a writer must put themselves entirely into the character’s shoes in order to convey a point of view that may differ greatly from their own.
Try thinking about how a youthful person may think and act… Instead of being confident, as an older person may be, they may be much more insecure. Without having experienced enough of the world to know better, they may obsess over trivial problems instead of the bigger picture. Rather than being settled into a job and family, they may be wracked with doubts and struggling to find their place in the world.
Of course, when writing about a character in a totally different situation to your own, research is key. If you’re writing about a character with a prosthetic leg, for example, and don’t have one yourself, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone who has a prosthetic leg and is willing to share their thoughts and experiences about their situation.
If you’re writing about a character who has just witnessed their pet being put down, try talking to somebody who has been in that situation and is willing to share their experiences. Channel these genuine thoughts and emotions into your writing, and you’ll find that you can create a much more relatable and realistic character voice.
Which point of view do you prefer to write in? Why? Do you ever struggle to get into the heads of your characters? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the comments!