Style and Voice Variability

I’m offering a little follow-up here from my talk with Daniel David Wallace.In that talk, I offered this thesis: An array of variables affecting the “narrational stance” has a huge effect on what is or isn’t advisable for your style and voice as a narrator. Now, I’m opening a can of worms here; there’s no doubt in my mind that I could create a semester-long course examining the smaller variations within different POVs. But I want to keep it simple and look at three pretty different passages here and pose the following questions:

What are they getting away with that would be inadvisable in a different narrational stance?And why are they getting away with it?

The passages are in the handout below, which you can download and print out if you’d like. I strongly encourage you to do this work yourself before looking at the video with my thoughts, but I did want to give you some of my impressions of these pieces. I’m opening up a comments thread below, so feel free to chime in with other thoughts you have about these passages. What I’m offering in my video response is not intended to be the “right answer,” just some observations.Again, though, the thesis here is that what you can/should do with the style and voice of your narration depends on several factors.Among those factors:

  • Person: first or third, most commonly, though second and first-person plural are also possible
  • Temporal distance: are we retrospective or immediate?
  • Psychic distance: how close can the narrator get to the character’s inner thinking? Is the narrator observing from outside or does the narrator have access to the inside?
  • Summary vs. scene: are we currently in-scene or not? The style for summarizing is different from the style for scene depictions.
  • Narrator visibility: is the narrator meant to be visible (with an attitude to convey) or is the narrator meant to be invisible, getting out of the way so that we can pay attention to characters?

There are others, but those are a few of the bigger choices you need to make with your narrational stance.So, take a look at these passages. It’s not all that important to pinpoint where these passages stand with the various factors I’ve listed above. What’s more important is to consider why they’re able to do certain things and not do other certain things given the narrational stance they’re taking.

Click the image below to access the handout:

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