One of the most important parts of getting started writing is choosing which voice to write in for the story you're telling. It's how your reader will experience the story from start to finish, so the impact it has on the piece as a whole is extensive. Make sure you pick the one that will work best for the story you are trying to tell.
So what is voice? To look at it broadly, voice determines which pronouns you'll use to tell the story. Would it play out better using I, you, or he/she? Beyond that, there is active and passive voice. Point-of-view plays a role as well. However, since I've already covered active verses passive voice and point-of-view, I want to take a closer look at first person, second person, and the variety of third person voices available.
First person is written using "I" as the main pronoun. The narrator is the protagonist, basically. This can be a very personable and effective voice to use. It's one of the most limited ways of telling a story, so it can make for a very tight story. It can also be tricky though, because you have to be careful to keep what is going on to exactly what your protagonist knows, sees, hears, smells, feels, and tastes.
In essence, it makes your story into something like a prose first person game. And just like first person games, there are those who love them and those who hate them.
Personally, I'm not a fan of either. I can't stand first person games. They have a claustrophobic feel to them, and I get frustrated at the tunnel vision of it all. Reading something in first person can be similar, especially if the author is stingy with the descriptions. The best first person stories I've read have authors who work hard to try and make their reader feel as if they're the protagonist by providing rich descriptions.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one, because it's one that's almost never used, for good reason. Second person uses the "you" pronoun. In essence, the narrator is telling your reader what they're doing in the story.
It kind of works for a pick your own adventure story, but it's a risky choice for pretty much any other kind of story. In fact, I think I've only ever seen it in the old pick your own adventure books and a few horrific fan fics.
Now we're starting to get into the most common voice choices, the third person voice group. There are a few different ways to go about using third person voice, but one thing they all have in common is they stick with he, she, and they pronouns outside of dialogue. The major difference between the different subgroups is the scope of what the narrator knows.
The third person, limited narrator is an outside observer. They act like a historian, telling what they see going on. They can give visual, temporal, auditory, temperature, and olfactory descriptions, but they have no idea what the characters are thinking or feeling beyond what is apparent in their expressions and actions.
The third person, omniscient narrator sees all and knows all. They know anything and everything about what is going on inside the character's heads at any given time.
This is the most freeing voice to work in, but it has its problems. You have to be very careful not to "head hop." That is, you have to be careful not to jump from one character's head to another so often or so frequently your reader has difficulty keeping them straight.
Here is the most common in modern literature, third person, limited omniscient. Like the third person, omniscient voice, the narrator gets inside the character's heads. However, the narrator can only get inside the head of one character per chapter or section within a chapter. It combines the "intimacy" of first person with the traditional feel of third person, limited.
If you haven't already read the post on point-of-view, you might want to do so now since it ties in with voice.
What are your thoughts on voice? Which one is your favorite to read, and which to do you prefer to write in?
A. B. England is a small business owner, home-schooling mom, novelist, all around geek, and avid crafter. She loves fantasy, mythology, and all flavors of science fiction.
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