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.


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.



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.

A Ten Year Journey

Crowd at ConcertI think two of the most common questions I get when I do public events are 1) How long does it take to write a book? …and… 2) How did you get you first book published?

Question #1 always makes me chuckle a bit because the answer varies depending on the book. Question #2 is kind of a long story.

So, I thought I’d share the answer two both questions today in regards to my very first book, Escaping Fate.

How long did it take me to write it? Well…I started writing Escaping Fate when I was fifteen, back when I knew next to nothing about writing and thought I was really good at it. I wasn’t. Anyway, a lecture in Mrs. Hume’s history class about Aztecs performing human sacrifices really got me interested and I started researching. Back then, that involved digging out an encyclopedia and scouring the library for resources since my parents weren’t big fans of the internet at the time.

The first version was super short. It fit inside a chunky 6×4 inch paper notebook. Yeah. It was short. Eventually, I started transferring it to my first laptop, which was a brick and weighed a ton, and I started adding to the story. Actually, I removed an entire character and rewrote the story with only the MC, Arrabella, and her grandfather. That took a while. A long while. REWRITE #1.fdd11-escapingfatefront

Some time later, I met my future hubby and found out he was into writing too. Don’ tell him I told you that, though. He likes to keep his writing on the DL even though it’s really good. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my husband. Seriously, it’s good stuff, and if he ever actually lets anyone outside me and his brothers read it, you’ll agree.

Anyway…my hubby and I chatted about writing and when I mentioned nixing poor Tanner from the book, he talked me into putting him back in. After all, every story needs a little romance, right? REWRITE #2.

Years later, after getting married and having two kids and doing some college here and there, I pulled Escaping Fate back out, reread it, decided it was still missing something, or several somethings, and went back to work ironing things out, changing POV and tense, adding in more story elements to keep things interesting, and who knows what else. REWRITE #3. 

40bf3-soulstonefrontcoverv2By the time I was ready to submit it to agents and publishers, I was 25-ish. Yep, it took me ten years to finish this sucker. And guess what happened? Zip. That’s right, not a single agent or publisher was interested in it. I had no publishing credits, no social media presence, nothing at all that would convince an agent or publisher to take me on.

I didn’t give up, though. I decided to publish it on my own. At the time, I had no clue how to market, but I learned how to format for print and ebooks, painting a picture of an Aztec god for the cover art, and put together a pretty good book. Escaping Fate is a book that will always be close to my heart because of the journey it was to share it with readers. Even though it’s not a big seller for me, it got my toe in the door, forced me to learn a lot about writing, publishing, and marketing, and put me on the road to some pretty cool things.

Escaping Fate was published in 2010. Since then I’ve published 15 other books, including a sequel to Escaping Fate that I never planned to write (Soul Stone), have made the USA Today Bestseller list as part of a wildly popular box set, got a pretty good review from Kirkus, and have more than one book in a top 100 category on Amazon. Even if Escaping Fate is never one of my more popular books, it was the first step. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to get yourself moving in the right direction.

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