Narrative voice sets the tone of the novel and gives it a ‘personality’ aside from the characterisation and plot development. It is an element of writing that is important to get right, and there are several things to consider to create the right voice …
Point of view is perhaps the most vital aspect of narrative voice, and is probably one of the first decisions you’ll have to make in this respect. Do you want a reliable narrator or an unreliable one? Third person or first? Omniscient or not?
Of course, there are cues to help you choose a point of view.
For example, if you want to show characters direct thoughts, then a first person narrator might be your best bet. Just bear in mind that you are limited to writing about what that character thinks and witnesses.
A risky and less common point of view is that of a second person narrator. This is great to allow the reader to witness events in the narrative as themselves, but also makes it hard for them to become lost in the narrative, as they are constantly reminded that they exist as an outside witness.
If you want to show events that occur without the main character present, then it may be worth considering showing third person viewpoints from different characters in each section An omniscient viewpoint is the most liberating, and doesn’t limit what the narrative voice can see or think. However, it’s worth noting that it can become difficult to let the reader into the thoughts of the characters, and changing characters too frequently can become jarring and confusing to the reader.
You should play around and see where the plot takes you to figure out which narrative voice strikes you as the best to use.
Sensibility is perhaps a more overlooked aspect of narrative voice. In order to take this into account, a writer must put themselves entirely into the shoes of the character, in order to convey a point of view that may differ greatly from their own.
Try to think about how a youthful person may think and act … instead of being confident as an older person may be, they may be much more insecure. Rather than being old enough to have experienced enough of the world to know better, they may obsess over trivial problems rather than the bigger picture. Rather than be settled into a job and family, they may be wracked with doubts and struggle to find their place in the world.
Of course, when writing about a character in a totally different situation to your own, research is key. If you’re writing about a character with a prosthetic leg, for example, and you don’t have one yourself, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone who has a prosthetic leg and is willing to share their thoughts and experiences about their situation. If you’re writing about a character who has just witnessed their pet being put down, try to talk to somebody who has been in that situation and is willing to share experiences. Then try to channel these genuine thoughts and emotions into your writing, and you’ll find that you can create a much more relatable and realistic character in your narrative.
Which point of view do you prefer to write in? Why? Do you ever struggle to get into the heads of your characters? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the comments!