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How Much do you Separate Your Narrative Voice?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Laurence, Aug 29, 2018.

  1. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

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    Those of you that are writing / have written third person: does your narrative voice somewhat mirror the voice of the POV? Does it depend how close you are to the character or does your narrator have its own distinct voice all the way through?

    I'm particularly interested in examples with multiple POVs.
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I kind of wish it did, and once in a while I try, but I don't think the link is clear enough it's worth mentioning.

    My current stories are all from one PoV character, but I don't think the narrative voice changes in a significant way between the books. There will be a few parts in the series later on which features two PoV characters, and I might have to try and make the narrative voice shift a little between the two of them. It sounds like fun.
     
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  3. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    I prefer the narration to be representative of the personality of the protagonist. Things get described in terms that the protagonist would use.
    This is of course much more practical if the whole story is told from the perspective of a single character.
     
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  4. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

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    Me too but starting to wonder if the risk of sounding inconsistent is jumbled. Guess it depends on whether I'm up to the task.

    I have three major POVs and five minor, so really gotta create some distinctive voices, but I'm nervous of creating clichéd characters while attempting to do so.
     
  5. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    If you make them actually distinctive, it should be the opposite of cliched. Cliche is when you retread something that others have done before while lacking the proper context that made them work in their original use.
     
  6. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I prefer to make it that the narrative voice fits the tone of the story.
    A wacky story, for example, would have a silly narrator who cracks jokes and editorializes even if the characters may be a more straight forward. The characters' personality are completely irrelevant to the narrator's personality.

    I guess I should point out that I've never finished a story written in first person. I work almost exclusively with limited third person.
     
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  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I have come to find getting the character's voice to sink into the narrative voice to be one of the most challenging and rewarding part of my writing.

    Brace yourselves, but here's some examples of the narrative voices I use in my Ladybug fanfiction.

    Alya is to the point and jumps quickly to conclusions. Even when it's her POV the story is often still on the main two characters, so it was important to me that her narrative voice was quick and sparse because she sometimes just isn't the point of her scenes. The way it came out, on the inside she is even more blunt, but she keeps it well under control by the time she expresses herself, which I find makes her a fascinating character to write.

    Next is Marinette:

    Marinette is the main character, so she gets all of the most emotional moments. She thinks fast, smart, and with a purpose. She has to be responsible, all the time, because the fate of the world is on her, and while that's a lot of pressure, her thought process has adapted to be quick and deep. A word that she uses a lot when she thinks is "damnit," because to me, it feels like emotion and responsibility, and everything that's going through her heart, all at once.

    Finally, we have Adrien.

    Adrien is the character who takes the lead when I want readers to think about things and go nowhere with it. He's confused, he overthinks himself into oblivion, but then finds himself doing awesome things because he just can't help it. Do I ask her out? I don't know. "Hey Ladybug, how about a picnic on top of the eiffel tower?" Adrien is a teen model, his father has drilled perfection into him, and the result is that he questions himself constantly - he thinks everything about him is fake - but his own standards for his own actions are so high that he can't help but impress people without even thinking about it. On top of this, his friends are like his precious treasures, so his thoughts are confused, self-doubting, considerate, and when in doubt, do something kind of awesome.

    ~~~

    So... yes, three very different voices for three different characters. And this part of my fanfiction has gotten a lot of great comments on it. I have found that my readers love it when two characters respond to the same event in very different ways, and I think that's a lot of fun to play with as a writer.
     
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  8. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Every voice should be different and provide another perspective/angle to the story.
     
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  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I've shared this before, and I will share it again. If you are afraid of making characters cliched, DON'T use character traits or personalities that you have seen before in fiction or film. Instead, take REAL people from REAL life. Your real life. Actual life. Ask yourself, who do I know that fits the bill? How would THEY behave in this situation?

    When you take characters you have seen in books/movies and try to use the same motivations/personalities/flaws etc in your book, they will feel cliched. If you take people from real life you can make them more nuanced. More 'true', more realistic. The more true you make a character, the less cliched they will feel.

    Exercise:

    Think of four people you know very well.
    Write their names down now.
    Next to their name, write down one strength that person has (in your opinion). What do you admire about that person? What do you like about them?
    Now, next to that, write down one flaw. One thing that annoys you or bothers you.
    Now, put those four people in an elevator. The elevator is stuck. They have been in there for three hours. How is each person behaving?

    please, actually do this exercise. You will see how easy it is to define the individual goals/motivations/characteristics/mannerisms or each person, and they will be totally unique. They will not be cliched because you have drawn from real life.

    This is a jumping off point. After this, don't get stuck thinking you have to be true to that person in your life. You have simply used them to create an authentic feeling character. One that fiction has not seen before.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Real people are cliche... heh heh.

    But anyhow! Multi-POV and voices... The thing I focus most on is not saying a single thing the character wouldn't know. And my characters don't know much, heh heh. Are there some differences? You bet. Are they severe? Hell no. In Eve of Snows I got lit up by my editor for going overboard when switching to a new young female POV, and changing my narrative voice to much. Narrate to fit their unique perspectives, not necessarily to match to match their dialogue voices or what have you.

    I narrate characters with varying degrees of formality... more or less contractions, more educated or colloquial language... a new POV in book two, the narration cusses a bit more to mirror her attitude, while another POV narration won't cuss at all. If you serve the church, you refer to members of the church (when not based on title) as adherents, while most common folk call them holies. But, my editor convinced me to keep it tame, and not go outside the bounds where it really effects the consistency of narrative voice. Of course, where that line is drawn is a judgement call.
     
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  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Right, I think this throws some people off. The narrative is supposed to be inside their head, and that's very different from, say, writing like the character is telling a story. You're taking the characters' impulses and hunches and subtle motivations, and you're putting them into words. If a bug crawls over your foot, your mind does a whole bunch of things at once, and none of them involve forming words. That's what we're doing. It's not the same as someone telling a story, "Le'me tell you about the time a bug crawled on my foot."
     
  12. Laurence

    Laurence Inkling

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    Demesnedenoir’s style is what I’ve been trying to do so far, so thanks for putting that into words.

    I think most close narration echoes the POV’s voice and blends into their thoughts at least to some small degree. If so, does it become less apparent as the narration zooms out / pans away?
     
  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    An exercise. What is voice?

    The fact is, most of us have multiple voices, heh.

    I speak to my parents differently than I speak to a new employer, to a stranger on the street, to my 9-month-old great nephew. If I'm speaking to a highly educated intellectual sort, my language and method of approach in saying something will change, especially if I find my interaction to be important and the things I'm trying to communicate are serious for me. If I'm speaking to a casual acquaintance in my hometown, I'm very unlikely to use the same approach—given the unlikelihood of that person being an educated, intellectual sort, hah!

    These are subtle differences sometimes, more or less conscious, depending on the context. On some level, I'm the same, inescapable person that I always am, so elements bleed over and, for instance, I can use terms with someone who looks at me odd until I ask, "You don't know what ineffable means?" Hah. Conversely, I can also say things that my interlocutor will find crude and even boringly gauche when, if I were more conscientious, I wouldn't have.

    Some of this difference relates to dialogue. The "voice" that I put forth for a real listener. The conscious or habitual voice I use when another person is on the receiving end. I target my speech, or aim it at my target, the listener, heh.

    What runs through my head, though? When there's no one I'm communicating with? Is that "voice" also? There's an odd situation, a conundrum I suppose, in narrative fiction. Because, yes, if there's a reader then yes there's another person on the other end, regardless. Does your character know of this other person, the reader? He might, if you are using a particular style of narration. But most cases don't fit this situation; the character doesn't know of the existence of the reader.

    Here's what I suspect, and perhaps others might clarify for me:

    In discussing this topic, we far too often focus on the word voice when considering the narrative in this manner: We focus on creating character voice, matching character voice to the narrative. I think that may be the wrong term, the wrong way to go about it, for much third-person narration. What we are really trying to do is something else, creating something else that is not character voice in the narrative.

    A bit more on that later.

    For now, this is my suspicion: The focus shouldn't be on creating, using character voice in the narrative, but rather, more times than not, we should be focusing on not introducing another person's voice, or a non-character voice, in the narrative, when we write. (I'm excluding a certain storyteller omniscient narration, in this consideration, and I'd tweak this for a consideration of first-person narration.)

    I mean the problem enters when, during our writing, the narrative voice accidentally includes something that is wrong for the character, something glaring. I.e., when someone else's presence—usually, the author's—becomes glaring.

    This relates to something DemesnedenoirDemesnedenoir said and something DevorDevor said:

    You are trying to put something else than character voice in the narrative, while at the same time trying not to introduce an outside voice.

    Part of what you are trying to avoid introducing is knowledge beyond the character's knowledge, as Dem. said:

    But you are also trying to avoid introducing evaluations made by someone who is not the character. I've discussed this before, at length, in an old thread. It's a hard thing to describe maybe. Some pesky -ly adverbs might serve as a simple example because lots of -ly adverbs introduce an evaluation of something. If someone does something nervously, that's an evaluation of an interior state of that other person; if that other person is not the POV character...well, how would that POV character know the other person is acting nervously? Someone is inside that other person, able to evaluate the action in this way—most likely, the author, and this could be the author's voice intruding into the narrative.

    There are many other ways that a kind of non-character evaluation can introduce an other voice into the narrative.

    In summation...The effort might not be so much an attempt to shape the narrative into a character voice as it is to avoid introducing a wrong voice.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
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  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    A followup.

    While avoiding the introduction of wrong voice, we really are trying to introduce something of the character into the narrative. Not character voice but...something?

    However, when doing this, we can occasionally use examples of character voice in that process: free indirect speech.

    Here's a simple Wikipedia breakdown of three types of speech: Free indirect speech - Wikipedia

    • Quoted or direct speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. "And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?" he asked.
    • Reported or normal indirect speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
    • Free indirect speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?
    I'm not sure that example of free indirect speech is great, although it does show how free indirect speech can be subtle. A more obvious example would be something like He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. Damn boss hadn't given him any warning, and how was he supposed to get by now with no income and no prospects?

    "Damn boss" is an evaluation made by that character. Questions are interesting, because in narrative the introduction of a question presupposes a person asking it, as if requesting an answer from another; if not the character, then who is asking?

    The Wikipedia example and my followup are weird in that both first say the character thought about something, and those introductions to the thoughts aren't necessary. The middle, "Reported" example from WP doesn't seem so bad, at least to me.

    When using multiple POV characters, you can tweak the narrative for each in this way. One character might "say" Damn corporate stooge instead of boss, whereas a different character might not be the sort to think of the future so much as the immediate past or present and wouldn't ask the question here but instead think something like Damn boss hadn't given him any warning. Filthy muggle. Filthy, stupid, inconsiderate muggle.

    Edit:
    Forgot the second half of your question. For me, the three Wiki examples feel as if they are going from more distant to closer. The closest would be an an example that doesn't first introduce, "He thought of his misfortune," probably.

    The issue of distance revolves around the fact that all third person narration has an outside narrator. Every use of "he" or "she" for the POV character is not the character "speaking" but a narrator, heh. And sometimes the narrator is describing the character via use of a "He" or "She" statement. But ultimately the issue also revolves around the degree to which those inner states/processes of the character are described or simply told or shown (three choices) and how they are described or told or shown.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Ha, okay, to round out my trio of observations...I'd expand the final paragraph above.

    Distance will also depend on how the environment (including any other character) is described, told, or shown,

    Consider these two examples:

    #1

    Rufus, the school's doorkeeper, paced back and forth in front of the gate. At the end of each circuit, he tapped the ground with his walking staff and paused, peering into the shadows. "After the seventh bell, the gate becomes the door," he had informed the assembled students during orientation.

    Nelly wondered how she could get by him. She needed to speak with Dorothy without delay and didn't want to be hauled off to the headmaster. She wished she had not been so late returning to the dormitories.


    #2


    Rufus, the school's doorkeeper, waddled back and forth before the gate like some drunk, oversized penguin on the lookout for a mate or predator, she couldn't tell which. Did penguins watch for predators? Mate, then. They certainly didn't carry staves to whack tardy students over the head with, but this human penguin had fat, short legs and no wings to balance him. He wouldn't care that she needed to speak with Dorothy immediately, and he'd likely tell her so with the staff before hauling her to the headmaster. She wondered if she'd be able to knock him over or cause him to trip, if he did, and almost laughed at the image before she caught herself. She had to get by him, somehow.

    For me, the first example is matter-of-fact. This might not matter much at all if the POV character is also the sort to observe her environment analytically, objectively. Maybe that POV character tends to be distant from other things in that environment. OTOH, it could just be a sort of narrative distance, not a result of character personality. The second paragraph in the first example is also somewhat distant, because the narrator is telling us that & what she wondered, that & what she needed, that & what she wanted (or didn't want), that & what she wished.

    The second example includes evaluations, flights of fancy, via metaphor, that must surely come from the POV character. It might come across as the POV character narrating—a kind of illusion, I think; but if the illusion works, why not?

    The second example could be an omniscient narrator's evaluations, metaphor. But I've included other indirect speech in there, and because that's the sort of thing I'd be doing through that POV chapter or whole book, the evaluations of the doorkeeper should imply that they come from that character directly and not from an outside narrator. This is her way of looking at the doorkeeper and her current predicament. That final somehow is her, directly wondering.

    Usual admission of guilt: These are spur of the moment examples, and maybe what I am trying to show isn't being "showed" in the best possible way, but I hope the gist comes through.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
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  16. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Happy to learn the term "free indirect speech" as it's something I make use of but haven't had a name for. :)
     
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  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    In Eve of Snows there is a lot of blur, utilizing variations of free indirect speech (as FifthView mentions). It's so blurred it's not easy to say about all aspects. When I zoom out, the language can get a tad more formal, but the rules of basic word choice would stand: the adherents/holies rule, for instance.

    I'm going to go on total memory here with Game of Thrones, so I could be whacked-in-the-head off here. But, the chapter-prologue and first few chapters of GoT are relatively clean of history... chapter prologue is the leanest in that regard. Now, you read through and hit the first chapter on Daenarys. Martin flat out hammers us with her history in this chapter, and you really can't say it's her voice. I THINK, can I emphasis think more? heh heh. I THINK if you look at that chapter and read the narration closest to Daenarys and her actions and thoughts, you will get a certain blend of narrator/character. Then, when he drops into full blown history, you might just find a more pure narrative perspective/voice. With much blurring, making the whole thing subtle, and unnoticeable, so it doesn't hit the reader in the face.

    Climbing out on another limb... I think a lot of this will be about Emotion. If there Emotion wrapped into the narration, we're way more likely to be pulling in closer to the character. Now, in 3rd OM emotion could actually pull us closer to the narrator... but in your typical 3rd intimate, the emotion is key. Hmm, need more thinking on that... emotion might be a key delineation.

     
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  18. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I find myself talking like my characters and narrator. It was funny in a UCLA screenwriting course, particularly during writing a western, someone mentioned the characters all sounded like me... and I said, "No, I've come to sound like them." Various speech patterns, whatever, it's weird.

     
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  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    In third person, you are allowed to zoom in and out, really getting close to the character, and then going distant. I tend to write pretty close, so my narrative voice tends to either be close to the POV character's, but when it isn't, it tends to be unobtrusive. I don't want the reader to notice that they've drifted away from the POV character.
     
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  20. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I suspect that the difference might also relate to the subjectivity vs objectivity divide.

    The first paragraph of the little, hastily written first example of Rufus the doorkeeper I used above in #1 could appear within a story that uses a very close third person for much of the narration. Perhaps the POV character is quite focused at the moment, not in the mood/mind to have the sort of emotional, extended flight of fancy like that in example #2.

    I think that objectivity is neutral in regard to the issue of so-called "POV voice" if used in moderation. So I'm back to the idea I mentioned earlier, that avoiding the insertion of some "outside" voice (the author's or narrator's) is really more to the point. Don't break the experience of seeing through the eyes/mind of the POV character; neutrality that doesn't offer some objective information the character wouldn't know doesn't break the limited POV, if used in moderation.

    What If those first two sentences were this instead:

    Rufus, the school's doorkeeper, paced impatiently back and forth in front of the gate. At the end of each circuit, he tapped the ground with his walking staff and paused, peering into the shadows, perturbed.

    Well, now Rufus is beginning to sound like a POV character; either that, or the author's or narrator's voice is peeping through. That -ly adverb and the adjective at the very end are evaluating his interior state. That interior state is something not observable from the outside. So, who is doing that evaluation? Certainly not the actual POV character watching Rufus.

    I've read that sort of thing, Rufus pacing impatiently, in a close third approach which would have Rufus as the POV character. We had a recent discussion that touched on this: Would Rufus think of his own pacing via that word, impatiently? Perhaps not; but I like what Devor said in this thread. The narration isn't so much actual thoughts, per se, but as authors we can choose the words we use to interpret a character's internal state for the reader. A person can evaluate himself, Rufus can feel impatience, and this is just the author interpreting this or implying this self-awareness in the character. Still, it's a little more distant than saying, instead, Rufus cursed his impatience as he paced back and forth in front of the gate.

    That sort of thing, Rufus pacing impatiently, can work in third limited. I think it may be neutral—if Rufus is the POV character. Not quite as neutral as a purely objective statement—or, is it an objective statement, after all, if Rufus is authentically impatient, as any truly omniscient, dispassionate narrator would observe? Hah.

    Edit: So...after my meander...Zooming out can allow us to offer info the character may not technically have in mind, consciously, at the moment, but may have knowledge or experience of. Not just history, but a description of the surrounding environs. I think the implication is that these are things the POV character knows about the present situation, the historical context.

    Now I'm thinking that the implication vs explicit nature might affect the sense of closeness. Hmmm.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2018
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