This entry focuses on narrative voice. It is the second entry of a five-part series.
Narrative voice should not be confused with narrative perspective, narrative style or narrative structure. For definitions of these, see part one by clicking here.
Narrative voice considers who is telling the story, how they refer to themselves and how they address the reader, namely through the use of pronouns.
There are three main types of narrative voice. Each have their nuances, however, and can each be used in alternation in one single text.
1: First-Person Narrative
Two types exist: singular and plural.
Singular: Uses the pronoun ‘I’.
Story is told by the narrator who includes themselves or their personal opinions/judgements in their narration of the story in some way.
Example: “I never did get into dancing.”
Plural: Uses the pronoun ‘we’.
Story is told either by an entire group or by a single member of this group, each referring to the collective's unanimous experience.
Example: “We all had a wonderful time at the wedding.”
2: Second-Person Narrative
Uses the pronoun ‘you’.
Story is told explicitly directly, usually conversational, and addresses the reader as though part of the action or as an acknowledged witness or recipient of information.
Example: “Well? You did disarm the bomb, didn't you?! That's just great. I knew you wouldn't be able to do it.”
NB: Although the reader may refer to ‘you’ throughout, the character you are meant to represent, or the relationships with speakers you may possess and the resulting knowledge they may have about you, is all capable of change, to the writer’s discretion.
3: Third-Person Narrative
Uses the third-person pronouns, e.g. ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’.
Two types exist: limited and omniscient.
Limited: A more realistic narrative voice, usually rather conversational and natural, seeming as though the character is recounting a history they have had some part in. As implied by the name, the narrator knows a limited amount of information on the characters and events recounted. They are only aware of what they themselves have experienced or heard through word of mouth. This also means that they could be unreliable or biased narrators, for they may be unable to access information or miss out information, either accidentally or deliberately; their own opinions may influence their narrating; or they may not be capable of presenting all of the information in a clear, holistic and objective manner.
Example: “By this time, she must have been feeling rather hungry, because she is said to have gone over to the fridge in haste.”
Omniscient: Less naturalistic, this voice type allows the narrator to be completely removed from the story, having no personal involvement whatsoever. Narrators also have unlimited access to information on characters and events (even accessing their thoughts and feelings). Think: a fly on the wall. Traditionally, such narrators are very reliable.
Example: “Edward remembered the night he had spent with Chris and daydreamed fondly about their next movie night together.”