The narrator’s voice

The narrator's voice

The narrator’s voice

To start looking for or deciding on the narrator’s voice, the novel must first be structured, or the story to be told and the characters who will be the protagonists must have been decided upon. The only thing left to do is to tell it. 

If in a previous post entitled, the construction of the characters, we made a metaphor with a car, we said that the character was the engine of the vehicle, the voice with which the story will be told would be everything else: the battery, the tires, the seats.

When you start reading a book, when you begin to travel through the world created by an author, the story is presented as a complete universe that, apparently -if the author is good- will seem to have been born in an organic, natural way. 

However, nothing is as simple as it seems, the reading that is being done is a skillfully crafted product. For this, a technique has been used that combines the different voices that participate in a story in such a way that only one voice sounds in our ears.

That little voice that whispers to us, that tells us what happens in a story, is nothing more and nothing less than the voice of the narrator, the one in charge of taking the reader through the content, characters, opinions, emotions… In addition, it will provide the story with points of view, perspective and tone.

For all these reasons, the narrator’s voice must be selected with great care. 

The choice of the narrator’s voice will determine all aspects of the novel.

Before choosing the narrator’s voice, the author must consider what he or she wants to tell, how he or she would like to tell it, and what his or her purpose is. 

It is not possible to tell a story involving 19th century New York high society in the same way as one involving a 21st century urban tribe. Each story needs its own voice.

What is the narrator’s voice?

What is the narrator's voice?

It could be said that it is a chorus that integrates the voices of the author, the story, the protagonist and the time and space in which everything takes place. 

It is common to hear authors say that the story was growing without their intervention, in an organic and natural way. 

Or what is the same, that the book they were going to sign was almost writing itself. In reality, this type of statement is very much a pose. 

The narrator’s voice, as if it were an instrument, has to be tuned to achieve a tonality and a rhythm… and that is the author’s task.

Types of narrators and their characteristics

An essential figure in the context of any story, there are several types of narrator. His role will be to inform the reader of relevant details regarding the plot. It can also conceal information from the reader.

First-person narrator

Here the narrator is part of the story, related to the most important details of the plot. It is not an external narrator. In many cases, it is one of the protagonists of the plot who acts, in turn, as the narrator.

Protagonist narrator

This type of narrator speaks in the first person and is usually the main character of the plot. He tells us the facts from his point of view, presenting himself in a subjective way, telling only what he sees, thinks and feels.

This type of narrator has advantages (mainly to empathize with the reader and bring credibility to the story). The disadvantage is that the reader will only be able to know the feelings of this character, not those of others.

Witness narrator

The witness narrator or metadiegetic narrator (that is, within the diegesis, which is the world in which the narrated events occur) is the narrative voice that narrates the events of a story, of which the witness narrator has not been the protagonist but of which he/she can give testimony. 

This type of narrator is easily distinguished from the protagonist, who is the one to whom the things in the story happen. Even so, he or she relates the events as if he or she had witnessed them first hand. 

Interior monologue

The narrator may tell the story in the first, second or third person. However, it can also take the form of interior monologue. It will be a voice talking to itself to share reflections and thoughts with the reader.

The interior monologue informs the reader of how a certain situation affects the protagonist. 

Second-person narrator

This type of narrator speaks in the second person. This has the effect of talking to the reader or to oneself. 

Usually, the writer uses this type of narrator in specific passages of the book -not throughout the entire work. Another peculiarity of the second person narrator is that he speaks in the present tense.

It is a way to bring the reader closer to the work, to get involved in the plot. The second-person narrator seeks the reader’s complicity, addressing him directly.

The second person narrator cannot be used throughout the work because it would be counterproductive and would sound forced. 

Third person narrator

As its name indicates, this narrator speaks in the third person. He does not participate in the events, being external to the work, contemplating himself from the outside.

This narrator does not correspond to any character, neither protagonist nor secondary. It is someone who tells the story from above, as if he were God.

The third-person narrator can see everything that happens in the present of the play. Even what happens in places far away from the main stage. Moreover, he knows what happened in the past and what will happen in the future.

The third-person narrator also knows the thoughts and feelings of the characters. For this reason, he can judge and reflect on the acts committed by the characters.

Omniscient narrator

An omniscient narrator is a third-person narrator who tells a story from the role of a demiurge. This narrator knows the past, present and future of all the characters.

An omniscient narrator knows things about the characters that they themselves are unaware of. In addition, the omniscient narrator expresses himself in neutral language, without the limitations of the characters. 

Since the omniscient narrator is neither part of the story nor the protagonist, the omniscient narrator’s speech need not correspond to the speech of the characters. For example, even if the characters are from a lower social class, the narrator’s voice may be expressed in neutral language and without the vulgarisms or limitations of that cultural or educational environment.

Equiscient narrator

This type of narrator speaks in the third person and corresponds to one of the characters. For this reason, the equiscient narrator can only know and narrate what the character perceives through his senses. Also, what he remembers and expresses.

An equiscient narrator differs from the omniscient narrator in that he shows us the story only from the point of view of one of the characters, instead of putting himself over several of them.

The equiscient narrator is more interested in the general conflict of the novel than in the intimate conflict of a character. Or, also, the way in which a certain character lives that general conflict.

Role of the narrator

Role of the narrator

To answer this question, we must first know the answer to another question: How far does the narrator go? If the narrator knows everything, we are dealing with a case of omniscient narrator. 

Two other possible types of narrators are the deficient narrator – he tells the facts of a story in a limited way, because he only refers to what can be perceived with the senses – and the equiscient – the narrator’s point of view is fixed on one of the characters and, therefore, he can only know and narrate what the character perceives through his senses, what he feels, what he remembers and what he expresses -.

The purpose of the narrator’s voice is to achieve a fluid text in which all the elements of the narrative (characters, times, spaces, emotions and sensations transmitted…) work as a chorus. 

The choice of the character narrator

This is usually one of the biggest problems an author has to face. On the one hand, there is identification, which means that the voice speaks from within the narrator-character, giving a glimpse of his life. In doing so, he shares with the reader something that is important and that is important to the development of the plot. 

Identification allows the reader to feel the character narrator as someone real and close who speaks directly to him or her. The problem is that, because the character narrator is part of the story, he or she can only give the reader a limited and subjective view of the events taking place.

The character chosen to act as the narrator’s voice can be the companion of the main character, as in the case of Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes. 

Another case could be the polyhedral narrator, like the one used by Bram Stoker in Dracula, where we have letters, reports, or diaries of several characters.

From voice to voices

That is, to dialogues. It is the way in which the reader gets to know the identity of the characters who are the protagonists of the novel they are reading. When we talk about dialogues, we are not only referring to the words that make them up. We also refer to the tone that indicates, for example, whether you are producing a dialogue between two characters or just a monologue.

The difficult part of developing good dialogues is to make the conversation sound fluid and natural, without the author’s intervention being noticed. One way to speed up a conversation, especially when it is prolonged, is to resort to what is known as tortilla dialogue.

 This way of structuring a dialogue consists of simultaneous dialogue and other actions. For example, two characters can engage in dialogue and, at the same time, combine it with other actions such as taking a cab or when it starts to rain.

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