In the last post, we talked about story development and where you get your story ideas. Once you’ve chosen an idea and a setting for your story, one of the things you must determine is how you will go about telling the story. Will you tell it in the first person through your own voice or will you pick a character from the story to narrate it? Some novels even use several narrators, up to three different characters, to tell parts of the story.
Here are some things to think about when choosing a narrator(s)…
1. Do you want the tone of your story/book to be formal or casual? The answer to this will guide you in determining who tells the story. For example, if you want the humor in the book to come through, you might not want to choose prim Aunt Gertrude to be the narrator of the story. If you want humor or a younger point of view, you might want to have the young taxi driver tell the story, etc. One warning when choosing a character to tell the story: don’t use a character who has a heavy dialect or choppy way of speaking. This will become tiresome for you to write and even more tedious for the reader to read.
2. Do you want to give the reader more than one point of view or do you want them to see the story through one character? Generally, the more points of view you use, the more information you give the reader. So, if you’re writing a mystery, you might want to keep some of that insight buttoned up.
3. Do you want the narrator to tell it like it is or lead the reader astray? If you use multiple points of view, those characters might all have a different view of the happenings of your story. This may not mean that any one of them is lying. It just might mean that they each see what is happening from their own point of view. We all have different interpretations of events in our lives. For example, my brother and I grew up in the same household, but we have totally different interpretations of what happened during those years.
4. Do you want none of the characters involved in the story? The omniscient narrator is the one who is the stickler for the truth. This narrator is none of the characters. This narrator looks down on the story and sees all that is happening and tells it accurately. In using this point of view, you needn’t worry about dialect or humor versus serious tone. The omniscient point of view is good when you want the reader to know things that happened to individual characters that the other characters do not know. Although the omniscient narrator sounds like a practical one to choose, you must remember that it does keep the reader at a distance. Your reader is not as apt to experience the story directly using this type of narration.
5. Do you want the book to come off as a presentation or do you want your reader to live the story? The third person limited viewpoint is definitely used the most, and it gives the reader a blow-by-blow experience of the story through the up-close-and-personal viewpoint of that narrator. This is where one of the characters is telling the story through his/her point of view only. The reader does not have access to how others are feeling or what they are thinking except through the narrator’s viewpoint. It takes longer to tell the story this way and is a little trickier because the character can only tell you about things that happen to him or things that someone tells him about. So, if you have a great fight scene planned between Ben and David, you won’t be able to tell your readers about it if Sam is the narrator and he isn’t present when the fight takes place. The best Sam can do is hear about it second hand and tell you about it later.
No one point of view is the best in every case. It depends on what you want to show the reader and how you want the story to come across. If you story is best experienced through the filter of a certain character’s voice, you will want to choose telling the story in the first person or third person. If you story will come across better from a bit of a distance, then omniscient narration might work for you.
Whatever you choose, make sure it works best for your story. You might want to write a bit of the story using all the different techniques and compare them. By doing this, you’ll know what works best for you and for your story.