Learning! — Writing Different Narrating Styles

I’ve never liked when people told me I need to find a “narrative voice” in my writing. It seems weird when people say “Oh, you write like H.G. Wells! Or “Your prose is as dramatic as Poe!” because I can’t take that information and use it constructively. I’m not going to pretend that “writing like [X Famous Author]” isn’t valid–all writers certainly develop somewhat unique prose–just that this comparison can’t really help the writer in any way. I wouldn’t even know how to take such a phrase. Is it a compliment? What if I don’t like that author? I prefer more solid points on which to base my writing, because emulating people in anything isn’t really ever a good thing (unless it’s acting, of course).

All that being said, every genre is going to have a ‘feel’ to it, and that’s what an author should be aiming for, not a specific author. This means its important to recognize what this ‘feel’ really means, and why its important. Now, this subject is pretty open, because there’s so much to narrative prose, grammar, and form, that I wouldn’t even know where to start, so let’s just talk about the narration.

I’ll give a few examples in my own work, and for my purposes I’ll assume you know what the different perspectives are. “Change in the Winds” is written from a third person limited perspective. The narrator follows behind the protagonist so closely that it only ever sees what he sees, and even occasionally points out what he perceives, but it doesn’t employ any direct thoughts. Generally, when writing in my universe of Nacre Then I want the reader to feel like they’re glimpsing into a world where a lot is going on. I’ll pluck in details about the surroundings, but not how my character feels about them. This will inevitably make you feel somewhat distant from the protagonist. This is also fine, because I also wanted the reader to feel like he had a past, something that’s easier established if you only give hints as to what the character’s experiences are rather than having them tell you what they’re feeling.

In my Lisa Stenton stories, I write very differently. This is in first person, and with a more contemporary writing style. She has a sense of humor, but doesn’t let on that she knows more than she really does. This story works better in first person because she has no idea what’s going on, and it’s much easier to make the reader feel this confusion if the protagonist is the one narrating it. I also do far less description of the surroundings because this isn’t as important. You don’t care about the house she lives in, because it’s just a suburban, unimpressive house. Why would I bother describing it? It’s not why you’re reading the story. You’re reading it because of the mystery of what’s going on, as well as Lisa’s reactions to the mystery, so that’s what I focus on, using the majority of the narration to let Lisa voice her thoughts and actions, and using the dialogue to help her voice her confusion (as the case often is) to the other characters.

Every narration style is going to have pros and cons, but honestly the most important thing is to write whatever makes the writer most comfortable. If I was scared to write something in first person, it wouldn’t have stopped me from writing Lisa Stenton stories. It would change the way they read drastically, however, even if everything happened the same way. The reader wouldn’t feel as connected to Lisa, but if I wrote it in third person omniscient, perhaps I could sprinkle in some dramatic irony by explaining to the reader what’s happening while leaving Lisa in the dark. The story would still work, it just wouldn’t be the same story exactly.

To me, the way I pick a narrative style is pure intuition. I don’t plan it at all, but I can look back and explain why I made the decision to write that way. I can say the third novelette to The Aftermath of the Rupture will be in first person, because it will be far more centralized around the main character and that’s simply the way I’ve always envisioned writing a story for this character. Also, that title is starting to lose favor, because the focus of the novelettes is starting to shift as I write them. No alternative title just yet, but I am working on it.

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