Monday, April 29, 2013

Tone, Voice, Narration, Point of View

In this installment, we will discuss tone, voice and narration or point-of-view. You are about to open a new electronic document on your computer and begin your book. 

In years past, you might roll a fresh sheet of paper into your typewriter. You are about to begin writing. 

You have your story and perhaps an outline. You have a list of characters and, hopefully, you know who they are and how they react to situations. There are several other factors you should consider before you begin. 

Let's talk first about tone and voice. Every book has a tone and every author has a voice. Some authors vary their approach depending on the topic of the fictional work or what seems to best suit the period or style of the piece. 

Some authors have a signature style and tone that their readers come to expect in every work they publish. 

There are numerous components to this consideration. First, you have to decide what tone you want to take (sarcastic, snarky, syrupy, logical, romantic, formal, short and to the point, very detailed and descriptive). 

Your tone should remain consistent throughout. 

You might give a detailed description of what a person looks like and how their voice sounds or you might wish to leave that to the imagination of the reader. 

You might include pop culture references (with appropriate attention to required copyright or trademark protection, course) or quote poems or songs. You might use very formal language or lots of localized slang. 

It's all up to you! Authors have more flexibility in a compilation of short stories as they can create a different tone for each story in the book. 

However, you will want to keep your audience in mind when you make these decisions. If a reader bought your book because your promotional material, book jacket or cover seems to indicate that it is a series of hard-boiled crime noir stories in the style of the 1940s, they will expect a tone that suits the style for every story. 

Let's talk for a moment about the tone you will set for your characters. If you are writing a period piece, be sure that your characters speak in a way that is suitable for the time in which the work takes place. 

It wouldn't make sense to have an 18th century heroine say something like 'dude, you never called me last night'. This kind of dissonance can be jarring for the reader and will instantly ruin the mood and imaginary world you have created.

You may have noticed that movies and TV programs sometimes take this liberty and, if you are a fan of fantasy works or stories that are told in merry old England, you'll be the first to notice the inappropriate use of slang, abbreviations or colloquialisms that don't fit the times. 

In stories that take place in a modern setting, your characters may have a distinctive tone that varies from one to another. For example, the son in your story might be a teenager whose style of speech is informal so, on paper, when she says 'go get them', the word may appear as 'go get 'em'. If his mother was poorly educated and born in the Southern U.S., you might depict her speech in this way: 'ol be rot back'. 

If you are writing a book that takes place in the future, you might even want to invent some words or a different style of speaking to give your novel a distinct flavor and environment.

Lastly, I want to talk about narratives and point of view (POV). Most fiction is written from a third-party point of view. New writers will probably find this the easiest style to sustain. 

Let's look at the choices:

First-Person: The author uses a narrator to tell the story. The narrator is a character in the book and tells the story from his or her view, including her or his feelings and thoughts about what is happening. However, this narrator does not talk about how another character feels unless he/she is describing what another character told him/her about their feelings. 

You can also change the first-person narration from one character to another in the book, if you wish, so that parts of the story are told from the perspective of different characters.

We won't discuss first-person plural here because it isn't as commonly used in literature. 

If you are an avid reader, you will occasionally find a first-person narrative that is told with insight into the feelings and thoughts of others because the narrator is omnipotent or has died and has insight into that is happening in the minds of others who are still alive. This is called first-person omniscient. This is the style used in Alice Sebold's novel, 'The Lovely Bones'.

Second-Person: This point of view is not used often in fiction. This point of view involves the reader as someone to whom the narrator is actively speaking. For example, the narrator (author) say to the reader , 'You know how you feel when you give your phone number to a guy and he never calls you back? I know you do, so don't lie to me.' Here's another example: 'Don't ask me why I opened the door to a stranger at two a.m. I know you wouldn't have done it, but I did, so don't give me a hard time.'

Third-Person: As I've said, third-person narrative is the most common style of narration and the most common form of third-person narrative is third-person singular. 

When referring to a character, the third-person singular point of view will always refer to, 'he' or 'she' and never use 'I' or 'you' to describe the actions or feelings of the characters or of the reader. He or she is not a character in the book; but is only the story-teller. 

The reader understands that the story is told by a third party - either someone who is not identified or someone who was not involved in the action but knows what happened and can, therefore, tell the story. 

Third-person plural perspective refers to the characters as 'they' or 'them'. This is not as common as third-person singular but can be used in combination with third-person singular, so that the story alternates between talking about how 'he' feels and how 'they feel' as a group. 

In 'Dreams of the Many', I used this combination to reveal the feelings of the protagonist, Brody Murphy, and the group of friends who shared common experiences and dreams. I wrote about Brody's physical or emotional pain and thoughts.

"Brody reeled with the intensity of the memories. He
dropped his head between his knees, and touched the cool
tile fl oor. Nothing like this had happened to him before.
Throughout his life he had always done an excellent job of
burying the memories, but not today. Today, he was back in
the cramped apartment, locked under the kitchen sink."

At other times, I talked about the fears and experiences shared by every person who took the journey with Brody.

"This ‘knowing’ was something he 
shared with Casey 

and apparently, it was now spreading like

a virus."

Epistolary Narrative: This is a point of view revealed in letters, documents, notes or diaries and sometimes includes the POV of several people. For example, an author might include letters between a husband and his wife as in an exchange between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln.

In a previous blog entry, we talked about creating a believable character. Our next blog entry will offer some tips to create a character your readers will love.