Every story has it. Fiction and non-fiction, blogs, even your journal has the Invisible Character. Who is this hard to see person?
Who’s telling the story? The answer to this question can radically impact your manuscript.
Let’s first look at the “levels.”
- First Person, meaning one of the characters is telling the story—“I watched Hortense move like a snake.”
- Second Person is rare and reserved for short fiction—“You walk into the room. You see her…”.
- Third Person means someone outside the characters is telling the story—“He watched Hortense walk into the room…” This may eventually be revealed to be first person, if the narrator appears later in the story as a character.
There is also:
- Past tense: The narrator tells a story that has already happened.
- Present tense: The reader discovers things as the narrator and characters to do (not a fan of present tense, but it has its place).
We haven’t spoken to the power of narration yet. The question is: Who is your narrator? When is your narrator?
Imagine how different a story would be if told by someone else? To Kill a Mockingbird would be very different if Atticus was the narrator rather than Scout. Scout is effective because she is a very limited omniscient character. She’s young, naïve, and learning as we do. What a different book it could be if the Scout telling the story was an old lady, interjecting her wisdom in the place of young Scout’s innocence.
An educated narrator uses different words than an unlettered storyteller.
Ask yourself, if using past tense, how far removed is the narrator? Is she five seconds away from the action or five decades? Does the narrator offer her view and opinions of events, even subtly, in the way the story is told?
How reliable is the narrator? Is he telling the truth only to surprise you later with broken trust? Is the narrator making personal discoveries in the retelling of the story?
Who you choose as narrator can broaden or limit the story scope. Characters are limited to what they know, unless they are far removed in time. Detached narrators simply tell the story, no frills, but word choice still enters in.
In non-fiction, YOU are the narrator, but you are a multitude of worlds, which do you narrate from? Are you informal? Humorous? Clinical? Just how much of “you” do you put into your manuscript?
Pro Top: If you get stalled in the first couple chapters of your book, or if readers say your voice is uneven, you have narrator problems.