Tag Archives: point of view

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Who is telling your story anyway? What is the point of view?

You’ve had a story in your mind for weeks.

Maybe you’ve twisted it, pounded it and cut it to pieces. You’ve already made many decisions on how it is to be told. But, have you put thought into the narrative voice?

The narrative voice is the voice of the point of view character that tells the story. With a well-drawn point of view character, a story can be rich and interesting. You want to take the time to get this right.

But be careful, many novelists make big mistakes in creating that narrative voice.

Last week, I blogged about 12 big mistakes that you can make in creating a narrative voice. This week? I have thirteen more potential mistakes. Never fear, there are plenty of ways avoid them.

13 More Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

You may make your character sound too much like you. Many new writers create these characters that are really ideal images of themselves. They have few flaws and are a little too perfect. The words these characters say sound suspiciously similar to those that the author would say. Ask a reader who knows you well to evaluate if you’re putting way too much of you in your narrative voice.

You may get the gender wrong. In broad, sweeping, general strokes, men react differently to situations than women. Of course, there are exceptions — so if you are writing in the opposite gender, make sure your voice is authentic. As much as I liked A Fault In Our Stars,  I thought John Green could have made his teenage girl worry a little more about her appearance. Teen girls do that.

You may make them all strength and no weakness. Authentic, three-dimensional characters are those that feel real. Don’t be afraid to have your character make mistakes, offend another character or fail. Potentially, a balance of strengths and weaknesses will endear your character to your reader. They’ll identify with them more strongly and want to see them through to the end.

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You may get the tone wrong for the genre. Are you new to the genre you’re writing? Make sure you’ve read a few books in it. Specific genres have tones that readers expect. You don’t want your hero in your thriller to be too flippant or sensitive. You don’t want your romantic comedy to be bleak and morbid. Study the genre and shape your narrator accordingly.

You may sound too much like your favorite author. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in your own work, your own voice is critical. You develop a voice, both your own and your narrator’s, through practice. Write as much as you can and read as much as you can from a variety of authors to find words that are uniquely yours.

Your prose may be a touch too purple. Even if your character is a boa-wearing, poodle-holding, cigarette holder-clutching, frosted blonde, middle-aged, has-been diva, don’t overdo the descriptions, observations , and meanderings. Your first goal should be clarity. Simple writing, light on the adjectives and adverbs, will make your narrative voice stronger.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

You may sound dated. Fiction has trends just like everything else. The common narrative voice of most chick lit in the ’90s has a distinct sound that you may not want to replicate in your chick lit book. Read and study the current books in your genre so that you can know what is expected. If you read only older fiction, your voice could be unappealing.

Your sentences may not be varying enough. Shorter sentences are quick and denote action. Longer sentences take their time and are good for description and observation. Make sure in your prose that your narrator has a variety of sentence lengths to add interest.

You may have forgotten the sensory experiences of your character. What your character sees, tastes, touches, hears and smells is all important to the narration. By adding these experiences, you are reinforcing your setting and creating a potential for conflict. Sensory description can make your story come alive. Don’t neglect it.

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You may be too shocking. Writing fiction is art and art can be anything, but if you purposefully intent to shock and offend with graphic profanity, violence, or anything else that may make readers uncomfortable, especially in the beginning, you may find you will lose interest early. It’s better to use the narrative voice to ease them into the story and save more shocking narration for the moments that you need it.

You may be too sexy. This problem could fall into the too shocking argument. In writing romance, I’d suggest that more provocative talk escalate organically. Admittedly, I’m not a reader nor a writer of steamy romance, so I may have this all wrong. But in my humble opinion, your narrative voice needs an arc. By seducing your reader too soon, you’ll have nothing to woo them with in later acts.

“I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.”
Berkeley Breathed

You may not react enough during the inciting incident. Structurally speaking, something big needs to happen in the first few pages to get the story moving. Your narrator interprets this event and must make decisions regarding it. Make sure that their reaction handles the situation plausibly so that the reader wants to follow them on their adventure.

You may not be interesting enough and the reader doesn’t care. This is a hard one to fix. The narrative voice must come from a well-developed character. The more you work on your characters depth, the more it will show in your narration. Take the time to make your characters rich and three-dimensional.

The best narrative voices come from well-drawn characters.

The more time you spend in every aspect of your character’s life, the potentially richer your narrative voice could be. Who knows? Maybe you’ll wind up with a Jane Eyre or a David Copperfield?


If you liked this post, consider reading these about character development:

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character or, 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

12 Mistakes You Could Make When Creating Narrative Voice

 

Narrative voice is the voice of the narrator in a story.

Every novel, especially those written in the first person, tells the story from a specific point of view.  If you’ve chosen a point of view for your story that is specific, you may find that it is complicated and difficult to keep the story only to their viewpoint. If done well, your narrative voice draws the reader into the story. The details of the thoughts and dialogue work together to make the narrator a sympathetic or likable character.

But if the narrative voice is put together thoughtlessly, your reader may bore quickly, dismiss the narrator and possibly discard your book.

Here are 12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

12 Mistakes You Could Be Making When Creating Narrative Voice

You may get the age wrong. If you are writing from the point of view of a teenager or a child, you may be tempted to make them sound too much like an adult. Even if you know precocious children, make an effort to listen to kids that age to fit their words to their age.

You may get the dialect wrong. Within certain parts of the country, certain idiosyncrasies come out in speech. You can play around with this, generally, without too much trouble. But if you’re going to lay your “y’all” on thick, or throw in a few “fogettaboutits,” you may want to consult someone who grew up in that area.

You may be too committed to standard English rules. Dialogue is messy. People rarely speak in grammatically correct ways. If you keep your dialogue to precise, well-written sentences, your characters will be stiff and dull. If there’s anywhere to get away with breaking the rules of grammar, it’s in dialogue. Have fun with it.

“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

You may have too much interior dialogue. Interior dialogue is a lot like backstory. Authors think they need it and readers skip over it. Mark up every place that you have interior dialogue and cut as much out of it as you can. Limit it to questions only. Or omit altogether and see if it’s missed at all.

You may make all your characters sound the same. Your characters should sound distinctive. Ideally, you can remove all of the dialogue tags from the draft and tell who says what. Even if it’s not that obvious, you can add individuality by adding catch phrases, stuttering, repetition, whining, commands, excuses, or one-liners.

A specific narrative voice can enhance the meaning and telling of the story.

You may have the time wrong. I am not a historical fiction writer for one reason: I don’t like research. But if you choose to write in a specific time period, you must be sure that your character speaks like they would then. Teen girls from the 1920s didn’t say, “Awesome!” If you take the trouble to find out what they did say, your dialogue will be interesting and authentic.

“Which of us has not felt that the character we are reading in the printed page is more real than the person standing beside us?”
Cornelia Funke

You may put in your own cultural preferences. Because I am a middle-aged white woman, living in New England in the 21st century, I run the risk of making all my characters sound like middle-aged white women living in New England in the 21st century. To make my dialogue sound authentic, I need to consider the culture, education, and status of my characters. These are certainly revealed in dialogue, so they should be correct.

You may make feisty unlikeable. One of the problems with reading dialogue is that we can’t accurately communicate tone or inflection. What may sound feisty and flirty to you could come across as crabby and unlikeable. This can put a distance between you and your reader. Ask your beta readers if they interpret your dialogue in any way other than what you intended. And then fix it!

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You may tell the reader too much too soon. Heaven help the writer who fills their dialogue with too much exposition! While you do want to be clear, and you do want your reader to know what’s going on, it’s hard to write exposition. I suggest you make your reader work for the important information. Assume your reader can fill in the blanks. If you scale way back, you can always add. Your beta readers can help you if you have gaps that need to be filled.

“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.”
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours,” he replied with a smile, “is willfully to misunderstand them.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

You may have too much pondering. This is similar to interior monologuing, but pondering raises the bar on navel-gazing. A character who does too much of this can be boring, monotonous, and come across as a whiner. Your narrator’s deep ponderings should only be expressed if this is really critical to the plot. It’s far better to have not enough of this than too much.

You may take your reader down too many rabbit trails. While it is likely that your character is deficient in attention, too much stream of consciousness can be a turn-off. The world already has a Virginia Woolf. Consider whacking some of those tangential thoughts down into the briefest of distractions. Your reader will appreciate it.

You may reveal emotions that should be saved for later. Hopefully, you plan in the great scheme of your story to have your character grow and change. Their emotional state should grow too, this means that in their narration, they should intensify at a reasonable, steady rate. The last big climactic moment, about 2/3 in, is where the pinnacle of your character’s emotions are expressed. Too soon before that and you’ll have nowhere to go.

To have a strong narrative voice, you must practice. Write, write and rewrite.

The result of your hard work could be a Scout Finch or a Nick Carroway — two prominent voices in literature who uniqueness told unforgettable stories.


If you liked this post on narrative voice, you may also like:

Top 10 Things To Give Your Characters That Will Make Them More Vivid or, 7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

#Top10Tuesday Top Ten Questions To Ask Yourself When You Clean Up Your Nano Project

Nanowrimo is almost done!!

And if you are one of those gold star, overachieving type, you may be wondering what to do with this little project once it’s all over. (This blog will have plenty of advice in December!)

Top Ten Questions To Ask Yourself When You Clean Up Your Nano Project
Top Ten Questions To Ask Yourself When You Clean Up Your Nano Project

But for now, let’s list a few general tips to consider when fine tune that draft. These all have to do with the general story structure and plot –these are big issues. In fact, you can’t do much more with the development of your story until these wrinkles are ironed out. Are you ready to answer some tough questions? (And have a stronger manuscript as a result?) Let’s Go!

1. Does the point of view character you chose have the most to lose?

2. Is your point of view consistent throughout the story?

Did you choose the right person's point of view?
Did you choose the right person’s point of view?

3. About the first third of the way in, does the main character set off on some sort of task or adventure?

4. Does the main character have a precise outward goal?

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5. Does the main character have a inner basic drive, such as acceptance or justice or vengeance or security?

6. Are the obstacles in the path of the main character increasingly more dramatic?

7. Is there a point about 3/4 of the way in the story in which all seems hopelessly lost for your main character?

8. Does your main character have two mutually exclusive desires? Is there critical point in the story, about 3/4 of the way through in which he will have to choose one over the loss of the other?

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9. Is your character’s choice a predictable one? If it is, you’ll need to rewrite it to surprise your reader?

10. Does the last fourth of your story tie up all the loose ends and put your main character into a permanent new situation?

Congratulations! You got those 50,000 words in, but you’re not done yet! Don’t be intimidated by the work that still needs to be done.  Your book is worth it!