Finding My Narrative Voice

What is a narrative voice?  Do I have one?  If not, should I?  According to Gaia Amman there are three key elements to narrative voice: style, practice, and literary devices.

I considered including this discussion in the latest Weekly Writer’s Roundup but decided my thoughts about the topic are too expansive to include in a buffet-style article.

Finding your own “narrative voice”, a quick guide — Gaia Amman

Publishers and agents are looking for “fresh narrative voices”. What do they mean? Do you have a good voice?


Books don’t talk. Only a non bibliophile would think that. A good book transports you from white pages with black ink to worlds where characters live and breath. As a writer, how do you accomplish such a feat? The magic of writing is all in the narrative voice, the personality of the narrator.

The personality of the narrator is typically not the personality of the writer. It’s the personality of the character telling the story (1 person POV, see post on POV) or the narrator’s if you are using a 3rd person POV.

So how do you get a certain voice?

Finding your own “narrative voice”, a quick guide — Scriggler | Peek Inside
Gaia discusses several elements that contribute to a writer’s narrative voice: style, experience, and literary devices. The article gives several examples of each of these elements.

So, how are these three elements are coming together (or not) in my own writing?

Let’s talk about style. The bolded sentence above (and its earlier unedited version) are an example of my style and how it’s developing. The first version of this sentence was “I want to talk about how these three elements are coming together (or not) in my own writing.” I have a tendency to add my feelings about what I’m writing directly into everything I write. “I want to”, “I think that”, “I would like”, etc., litter my early drafts. Sharing my thoughts and feelings isn’t necessarily bad in every instance, but it adds distant to the message, and it contributes to passive voice. But, it’s also a legitimate part of my “voice”. I play with it, particularly in this blog. My article titles are longwinded and contain anachronistic terms, like “Wherein” and “Hitherto”. I’m well aware that I’m violating good blog-writing rules of thumb. “How-to”, “Six easy steps”, “Five simple changes”, are all more eye-catching ways to phrase a title. But they are also titles for a type of blog post I don’t write (yet, anyway!). Which brings me to another style consideration. Parentheticals come in many forms, the most common being commas. I like to make the parenthetical break stand out — with en-dashes — or sometimes (with actual parentheses).

These stylistic flourishes wouldn’t be necessary if I didn’t write so many compound sentences.

Look at that. 14 words, double negative, and a compound sentence. Even when I’m brief, I’m roundabout!

Let’s try it again.

I wouldn’t need so many parentheticals if I wrote simpler sentences.

11 words, and only one negative, but it’s still a compound sentence. Good enough.

In my novel, The Gideon Effect, some of my characters have a somewhat unique form of communication. Part of my narrative voice in the story involves reproducing the communication in words with punctuation. I won’t call them grammatical sentences because I intentionally break some rules to convey the communications. Breaking rules can be part of one’s narrative voice, but you need to know what rules you are breaking and why you are breaking them. And you need to break them consistently. If one character has a dialect, tic, or signature turn of phrase, it shouldn’t bleed into the dialogue of other characters. And in my case, it must be clear to the reader what is spoken dialogue, what is internal monologue, and what is this other form of communication.

How does experience play into narrative voice?

Practice. Keep writing. Don’t worry about your narrative voice. It will naturally develop.

Don’t worry, but do be observant, I would add. Much of my recent first draft writing has been during NaNoWriMo months. There are three events each year, now, and I’ve taken advantage of the sense of companionship that comes with writing while a lot of others I know and don’t know are also writing. While the scheduled months of writing with a deadline have helped me get lengthy stories out of my brain and into written words, there’s another aspect to NaNoWriMo – word count. To “win” or to reach the goal, you must write a story from beginning to end, and also write at least 50,000 words. The nice thing about the deadline and the word count requirement is that you can’t meet them unless you turn your inner editor off and write like the wind. The downside of the wordcount goal is that it encourages writers to add excess words and sentences. I’ve talked to writers who were a few hundred words short at the end of the month, and global-changed all their contractions into two words.

I’ve never had to do that, but I often avoid contractions in the first place when writing for NaNo. And I add unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, phrases, and parentheticals.

I plan to continue participating in NaNoWrimo as part of my yearly writing routine. But, if I find that participating causes me to backslide in my effort to write stronger, more direct sentences and paragraphs I’ll reconsider.

And literary devices?

A pirate's style for me

This is one of my strengths as a writer. The story I’m telling requires it of me. I mentioned earlier that I needed to make several different forms of communication distinguished from each other and easy to recognize. I love to let dialogue tell the story, and dialogue is one of the areas of my writing where I break rules to give each character a unique voice and to make their voices natural, casual, emotional, forceful, persuasive, and all the other nuances that humans express with words, tone, and gesture. As I and my novel move forward toward publication, I look forward to learning how successful I am with these literary devices.

photo credit: open book via photopin (license)

Brave Old World via photopin (license)


2 thoughts on “Finding My Narrative Voice”

  1. Nice Post! Ugh, I so saw myself in part of the description above regarding “I feel”, “I would like”, etc. It’s a conundrum as the more I write, the less time I have for editing out these unnecessary elements. I think it’s OK to break some of the rules about titles. This is another issue I wrestle with. How does one write without letting SEO and such interfere with their unique voice? And could I have simply said in the previous sentence – “How does one write without letting SEO and such interfere with uniqueness?” I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in my writing struggles. A helpful post with honest insights- that’s much appreciated.

  2. I’m pretty far from being an SEO expert, but it’s possible to use SEO metadata to add search relevancy that might not be in your title. I also add what I hope are relevant keyword search terms into the first sentence or two of most of my blog entries.

    There are some editing shortcuts I sometimes use. I hope that over time, I’ll internalize the feedback from the Hemmingway editor ( Keeping “shorter sentences” and “fewer adverbs” in mind as I’m writing slows down the initial process of getting the sentences onto the screen. And that could be a bad thing!

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