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Storytelling: Elements of Narrative Voice

There are three elements of narrative voice that can impact the way a story is told.

Attitude

Attitude has to do with emotion, values, beliefs, worldview, and feelings about a particular person or situation. The attitude of the narrative voice reveals how the narrator speaks, the narrator’s body language, his or her reactions, and the actions taken in a specific situation.

Attitude adds uniqueness to the narrator’s voice and provides deeper characterization. Consider how the phrase, “I can’t believe you two met online!” could change depending on who says it. A friend of the couple who is of a similar age and understands that various facets of online dating might say it with pleasant surprise, happy that their story worked out. An older relative who distrusts the internet might say it with derision and eye the boyfriend/girlfriend skeptically. In both cases, the reader is given further insight into the speaker.

Tone

Tone isn’t just what is said but how something is said, and it can completely change the meaning of the actual words. The phrase, “I’m sure you could,” can be supportive and kind when said in a soft and loving tone, or snarky and dismissive if the “sure” is emphasized in a spiteful tone followed up by an eye roll or huff of annoyance.

Speed of speech, loudness or quietness, word choice, emotion behind words, and physical actions accompanying words all affect tone. Keep in mind that not all body language and connotations are universal, so make sure that what you’re trying to convey with tone is understood by most readers.

Personal Style

Personal style (of the narrator not the writer) includes vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar and technical aspects, cadence, and personal preferences. This can be developed for each character to highlight uniqueness.

Be careful not to over do it with too much slang, jargon, or colloquialisms that reading the narrator’s dialogue or thoughts becomes a chore for the reader. Give just enough that the voice is recognizable to the reader when you switch narrators.

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How does narrative voice effect storytelling?

An important part of choosing the right narrative mode involves choosing what narrative voice to use.

Narrative modes are individual elements used to relay a story to the reader, and include:
Dialogue, action, description, exposition, thought and scene.

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Dialogue is the talk that is exchanged between characters. It is spoken communication and is punctuated with quotations. It shows personality, reveals information, and gives the reader insight about the character’s thoughts, worldview, and self-perception.

Action is events portrayed as they happen in a story. Action takes time to develop and happens in a specific place. Action is not a “report” or something that happened. It should be described “blow by blow” and not as a summary.

Description is details about how something, some place, or some person looks behaves or functions. Description should have purpose. It should develop setting, characters, situation, and time period. Description should not be self-serving or irrelevant to the situation or story. It should help orient readers in the scene.

Exposition is the telling of the story through relaying information. It is used for explaining, transitions, and narrative summary to skip details of unimportant but necessary events. Too much exposition is referring to as “telling.” Not every part of the story should be told as exposition.

Thought is character self-talk or inner dialogue. It may be only thoughts, or actual talk (self encouragement or disparagement). In third person, thought is italicized to mark it as different from dialogue. First person wording (“I”) is also used in thoughts.

Scene sets the stage for a particular part of a story. It informs the reader of the situation the story section will take place in. Special attention should be paid to the open and close of each scenes so it does not begin or extend beyond what is relevant.

Narrative Voice

Narrative voice encapsulates the writer’s and narrator’s voice, viewpoint, style, tone, mood, and how a story is presented. Voice shows personality and changes depending on the character or situation. Nearly all elements of a story contribute to the voice of the story and needs to be consciously thought out to make sure it’s present in the best way for a particular story.

 

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Elements of Narrative Voice

Attitude has to do with emotion, values, and beliefs, worldview, and feelings about a particular person or situation. It reveals how the narrator speaks, their body language, reactions, and actions.

Tone isn’t just what is said but how something is said. Speed of speech, loudness/quietness, word choice, emotion behind words, and physical actions accompanying words all affect tone.

Personal style includes vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar/technical aspects, and personal preferences. This can be developed for each character to highlight uniqueness.

Choosing narrative modes to develop a distinct narrative voice

Every story has a unique balance of narrative modes based on which create the most appropriate feel. Modes should be varied. Stories that rely to heavily on one or a select few become monotonous.

  • Vary modes used to open and close scenes
  • Break up big chunks of dialogue with action
  • Avoid long sections of thought
  • Space out action scenes to give readers a chance to reflect and anticipate what comes next
  • Keep description to what is relevant and helps develop the story, setting, or characters

How a story is told is just as important as the story being told.