So, we’re back again only this time around we’re setting the topic of styles to the side for the moment. You can only work on one thing for so long before you start losing focus on it, right? Right. If you’re worried about not being able to write your story without knowing everything about your style of writing let me put those fears to rest.
You’ve written before without knowing your style and you can still write now, that’ll come to you naturally over time and, learning who the narrator of your story is can only help you achieve what you’re looking for in your style of writing.
Who is your narrator?
Are they female? Male?
Are they reliable? unreliable?
These are the questions you need to start asking yourself the moment a new idea pops into your head because your narrator is the first person a reader meets. Those first few paragraphs, the first few sentences even, are what your reader uses to define the narrator. It’s akin to the first impression of meeting someone on the street. It’s the rest of the novel that they use to really nail down who that person is. So, let me ask you:
Who is the voice of your story?
When the idea for your unique and amazing story popped into your head who was the first character you created? That person is most likely going to be your main character and, depending on whether the novel is in first or third person, they’ll probably be your narrator. For now, we’ll focus on the first-person perspective aspect and move onto the third-person later.
Defining the narrative and voice of your story is a tad bit easier, at least in my perspective, when writing in the first-person perspective. It’s much easier to get the emotions of characters across to the reader and it’s almost as if the reader is standing right there beside the characters going on the same adventure as them throughout the novel. It’s because of this that getting the voice of the narrative through to the reader is also easier.
The voice of the narrative is what the reader comes to rely on for anything within the story. The narrator lets them know what’s going on. Without the narrator, there would be no story and defining who that person is will ultimately decide the outcome of the readers’ experience.
I said that first person is generally easier to write, that’s because it’s generally what I write in so it’s where most of my experience comes from. However, the first person can also be very limiting, it’s the power you have within that tight limit that makes your story. Unlike with the third person perspective in the first person, you can really make your readers sit on the edge of their seat in suspense.
A great example of this would be James Patterson’s Confessions of a Murder Suspect in which, throughout the entire novel, we’re trying to figure out just who killed Tandy’s parents in the middle of the night. The twist, however, is that the main character we’re relying on to tell the story is an unreliable narrator. The reader is strung along without even knowing if the narrator, Tandy Angel, is innocent.
She’s an unreliable narrator, someone the reader can’t wholeheartedly trust, and this is where the fun is in creating the narrative in the first-person. You have this power to make your character someone the reader can or cannot trust and that power is everything. It hooks your reader. It takes them on a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s what makes them say, “Just one more chapter.” before going to sleep for the night.
With the third-person perspective, this isn’t as easy to achieve. I stated earlier that first-person is limited in what they can achieve within their narrative. It’s all in how they achieve what they can within that limit that makes the story captivating. It’s where the first-person is limited that the third person perspective picks up.
With the third-person perspective, you can still have that unreliability note to it, it’ll just be harder to make it hit as much as it would in the first-person. It’s not impossible and it only helps to make you grow more as a writer trying to achieve that same effect. However, in the third person, whether you’re writing in limited or omniscient, you have the power to let your narrator show the reader the world in which your characters reside in. You’re not stuck to one person, even if you are in limited. A good example of this is Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief in which Death is the narrator throughout.
The book is written in a mixture of third-person and first-person, something that can be seen in the moments where we’re allowed inside Liesel’s head in third-person before being back with Death who speaks in first-person. However, the reader is never sure if they can truly trust the narrator, Death. All the same, we’re shown a vast array of characters throughout, given a much more extensive amount of knowledge about the surroundings and thoughts and feelings of others that never would have been achievable if the book had just been written entirely in the firs-person.
People say that the difference between the first-person and the third-person perspective is the amount of emotion the narrator can make the reader feel. I agree with this, but where it’s harder to achieve with the third-person the narrator has much more at their disposal to make the reader immersed and to make them feel things for the characters and the storyline.
When choosing one or the other, you can’t go wrong. Both have their strength and weaknesses and it’s your job as the author to make your narrator grab those strengths and make them strong enough to beat out the weaknesses.
You have your story idea. You have your narrator.
Now give them their voice.
Article by Shania N. Soler