The narrator guides readers through
the story journey just as a trail guide
leads hikers through the forest.
The narrative voice is just as important in memoir as it is in fiction, for memoir is a true story.
Writers need to think who is telling the story.
What point of view should they use?
First person; I, me, through the speaker’s mindset only.
Third person; he, she, Victoria, through his or her mindset only.
Omniscient; think God here, the narrator knows all and can think and see the action through the minds of more than one character.
This is just a quick stroke from the point of view narrator palette. The main point is for the writer to focus in and realize whose eyes the writer is looking through to make the story exciting for the reader.
A good way to find the narrator of a story is to determine who changes the most in the story.
Most times, memoir is a first person account of a particular time in the writer’s life. Remember that memoir is only a slice of life story and not the entire life of the writer. Sometimes the writer can act as an observer of another in a third person account of the time being remembered. For my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, I am the narrator who is experiencing each of the lessons in the story as they unfold.
Like any important character in the story, the narrator must be well-developed for readers to stay connected. He or she needs to be the guide in the story, taking the reader along the journey of events. The reader needs to be immersed in the scenes, feeling what happens.
To do this, the writer must provide specific details to flesh out the scenes and make the world real to readers, details that encompass the senses—not forgetting taste and touch. The narrator’s primary job, according to John Gardner in The Art of Fiction, is to convince the reader that the events she recounts really happened.
Beth Kephart says, in her book Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, the narrator needs to remain vulnerable in order to learn, along with the reader, on the journey of the story. The narrator must discover something new, something surprising—even to her. This shows the growth and development of the narrator character throughout the manuscript. The narrator can find the order in the disorder of story life.
This is how good authors write. We want the readers experiencing the drama right along with the narrator.
Is it easy to do? Hardly! If it were, writers would have a seamless time of it.
By the way…my “seams” are in tatters after all the comments made in my synopsis.
However, instead of revising and getting yet another copy of the same manuscript with the same flaws, I decided to send my 73,099-word, 237-page memoir about attending college as a mother of five for a developmental critique by professionals. The Author Accelerator group says it will take about a month to get back the critique. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
In the meantime, do you have any thoughts on the narrative voice that you’d like to share? They would be greatly appreciated.
22 thoughts on “The Narrative Voice in Writing”
This is a good time to think about tone and narrative distance (Do you want to be humorous or serious? Address the reader as a friend, or be more formal? And so on.) Does a certain voice come naturally to you?
Thank you so much for this information, Jennifer. I usually talk to the reader as a friend. My first few drafts were humorous journeys through college. The problem with my memoir manuscript right now [I think] is that I've tried to apply so much of what I have learned about memoir or have read in memoirs that the manuscript is a mix of friendly and formal. Hence, it's time to have a professional help me see what's working and what's not. Thank you so much for leaving your advice here at Adventures in Writing. It means a lot.
Jenn's the best. And she's a darned good writer. I think she hit on a very important part that a lot of writers sometimes don't attend to, and that's tone. One thing that I find jarring is an inconsistency of tone. When a writer loses track of that it can ruin a super story.
Good post and thanks for visiting The Write Game. Come again.
Looking forward to finding out what the professionals say about it. All the best!
Good info – sometimes these things can be tricky, especially because I have a tendency to overthink things. Keep us posted about what the professionals say!
Good luck with your critique!
Hi Victoria .. thanks so much for connecting with me via Karen Lange's blog … it'll be great to read your posts. We just need to make sure our writing engages with our readers … but books and novels – another story! Cheers Hilary
Jennifer is an excellent writer. I've checked out her books online and have read the excerpts. I will be purchasing them soon. I agree with what you and Jennifer say about tone. The problem with my memoir right now is that I tried to incorporate information I've learned about memoir and a few critique sessions and I think I've lost my voice. I'm very interested in hearing what this professional critique of my manuscript yields. Thanks so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog and leaving a note. Your kind words are most appreciated.
So am I, my dear, so am I. I'm a little scared and yet I want to know what others see in my writing. I will share the knowledge I glean from the critique with my followers here on Adventures in Writing. Thanks for your note. It's greatly appreciated.
Yes, I will, Karen. By the way, I overthink everything too. I think that's why it takes me so long to do writing tasks. Many writing elements can be vague or interpreted in different ways. A writer needs to understand what is right for her particularly and the story she is trying to tell. Thanks so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Your kind words are greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much, Yvonne, for your kind words. And thanks for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Please stop by again.
Hello and welcome, Hilary, to Adventures in Writing. I enjoyed reading your posts and interview. Glad we connected online. Engaging with the readers is the whole purpose of story writing. Thank you so much for your encouraging words. Please stop by again.
I think memoir is my favorite genre to read because of the openness and vulnerability of the writing. It's personal, and of course usually quite painful otherwise why write it? But I have to like the narrative voice, same as in fiction, or I can't relate to the story.
This is true, Karen. Without the narrative voice in any story, the reader cannot stay connected to what's going on. The reader should be involved, along with the protagonist/narrator, in the story action. The first-person narrator in memoir must be vulnerable on the page for both the narrator and the reader to learn from the experience. Thank you so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog. Your insight is invaluable to me.
Hi Victoria! I just realized I didn't have you on my blog list, but I took care of that little issue, so now I'll see when you post something new! 😉
I've never heard of Beth Kephart, so I'm happy to learn about another great book about writing…and memoir writing in particular.
Best of luck with your critique! That's very brave of you! I belonged to a local critique group during the years I was writing my memoir, and they were SO helpful. I was such a newbie when I began writing that I didn't know what genre meant, or POV, or galleys, or clips, etc.
As far as my narrative voice, I tried to write in my "child voice" when I wrote about things in my young life, and then like "myself" in the later years!
Also, I would like to email you about a few things, but I can't find your address anywhere. If you don't mind, you can email me at Writergal53 (at) G Mail (dot) com Thanks!
Thank you so much, Becky, for your kind words. I enjoy "talking" with other bloggers here at Adventures in Writing. We can learn so much from each other. I believe I have joined your blog. I'll go back to check. As for my e-mail not being available, I try to rectify that problem. Thanks for letting me know it's not working. Beth Kephart teaches memoir at the University of Pennsylvania and she knows what she's talking about. I've met her at a few presentations. Yes, I'm a little nervous about the forthcoming critique, but I still think it's the only way to move forward with my manuscript. Your narrative voice in memoir is perfect. You speak from innocence as a child and then experience as the adult trying to make sense of the situation presented. I'll contact you via e-mail. All the best, Becky, and thanks for leaving a note at Adventures in Writing.
How cool that you sent your ms off for critique. Always interesting to get feedback and the break from the ms will probably be helpful too. I know I have a hard time putting a ms aside for a while and giving myself a chance to see it with fresher eyes. 🙂
I have the same problem. I can't seem to let a manuscript be. As I said, I'm nervous and excited to get this critique back. I feel it's the only way to move forward on my memoir about attending college with five kids in tow. Thanks so much for visiting my Adventures in Writing blog and leaving a note. It's greatly appreciated.
Any feedback so far on your manuscript?
Just got it, Nas! I'll be combing through it and offering a post by the end of the week. Thanks for stopping by Adventures in Writing, Nas.
Good luck with your manuscript! It is important to find the right voice when writing. Usually I use third person, but there have been stories that needed to be in first.
When I write short stories, I use third person, too, Christine. However in memoir, it is usually first person as the narrator and the writer are the same person. Of course that first person I may be the voice of innocence or the voice of experience depending where the writer is in the narrative. Thanks for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again!