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Narrative voice

Narrative voice

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Summary

Narrative voice

​​In a nutshell

Narrative voice is the perspective from which a story is told. In this summary, you will learn to identify and use first, second and third person in writing.



Getting started

In fiction writing, the writer creates a narrator, and identifying the point of view of the narrator can be confusing at times. The narrator is the voice of that tells the story. First, second and third person are all types of grammatical person. To figure out which one is being used, you need to look for the pronouns in the text. 


Narrative voice is a very important tool in story telling and writers need to select the narrative voice they use carefully. By using different narrative voices and perspectives in a story, you can change the way the readers view and perceive your story.


​​The different types of narrative voice

A story can be told from the first, second or third person perspective. These are the three main types of narrative voice.



TYPE OF NARRATIVE VOICE

Example

First person
Writers can use the first-person perspective to tell a story through someone within the story, such as the protagonist or main character. The pronouns 'I', 'my' and 'we' are commonly used when writing in the first-person narrative voice.
​'I was home alone when I heard footsteps upstairs.'

Second person
The second-person perspective is created through the use of the pronouns 'you' and 'your'. It is the least common narrative voice used when writing fictional pieces.
'You were home alone when you heard footsteps upstairs.'
Third person
Stories written in the third-person perspective use 'he', 'she' and 'they' pronouns. This narrative voice tells the story as an observer or bystander, and their narration can help us understand the thoughts and feelings of a character.
'Danny was home alone when he heard footsteps upstairs. His heart began to race whilst fear and anxiety coursed through his veins.'

Third person omniscient
​Omniscient means all-seeing and all-knowing. An omniscient third-person voice shows they know more than the characters in the story by providing facts and details about other characters and events outside of the story to help paint a broader picture.
​'​Danny was home alone when he heard footsteps upstairs. His heart began to race whilst fear and anxiety coursed through his veins. A few hours later, Danny's mum Pam arrived home from work to find the front door open. She went inside, but there was no sign of Danny.'


Authors can also present the story through an unreliable narrator and therefore an unreliable narrative voice. This is a narrator that plays a role in the story and is part of the narrative. Unreliable narrators force the reader to question whether they are telling the truth or making up parts of the stories they are trying to recall.



Employing narrative voice

Now that you know how the narrative voice works and can identify the different perspectives, you can use this knowledge to inform your own writing. The point of view from which you choose to write is very important in shaping the way the reader perceives your story. Who the narrator is will affect the tone and language you use to write the story.


First person

When writing in the first-person point of view, there are a number of things to consider: You must decide who is telling the story. Will the narrator be the protagonist? Or will a witness tell the story? If you allow the protagonist to tell the story, this allows the reader to follow their journey in the story whilst creating a connection between the reader and the character. 


This can also give you the chance to use an unreliable narrator as the protagonist will inevitably express their thoughts and feelings whilst telling the story. If a witness tells the story, this could make the account more objective, but again, less personal as they are not in the mind of the main character.


Second person

This is the least common point of view. However, if the writer uses it correctly, it can be very effective. Second person narrative can be very helpful in making the reader feel involved in the story and with the characters, and like they are being spoken to directly by the narrative voice. 


This point of view has very limited uses. An example of second-person narrative is when the narrator speaks directly to the reader.


Example

'I wish you could have seen Danny's face. He looked absolutely mortified.'


Third person

This is the most popular form of narrative voice. It is the most versatile perspective and allows the writer to play around with different characters, events and places at the same time. Third person narrative allows for a close look into singular characters, which often creates a connection between the protagonist and the reader. 


The narrative voice can add as much or as little detail about the character as the writer likes, and can switch between different characters to allow for a wider scope of connection between the reader and the characters in the story.


Third person omniscient

This point of view knows everything about everyone. However, this voice can be selective in what level is shared to the reader and when. You can keep your writing interesting and engaging by carefully selecting when to share what information. 


You can also play around with the tone and voice of the narrator between third person and third person omniscient and the voice does not have to be linked to the protagonists in any way. An interesting example of this is when the narrator of the story is secretly the villain all along.


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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What is third-person omniscient narrative voice?

What is an unreliable narrator?

How do I write in first-person narrative voice?

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