This lesson relates to the four previous lessons in perspective: First Person, Second Person, Third Person and Combining Perspectives. Read those first to get a feel for the thrust of this lesson.
The “voice” in writing is the viewpoint and who, or what, is talking. Remembering the voice is helpful to a reader because it helps make dialogue clear and aids in setting up the scene in a logical way. Remember, that your reader is blind, deaf, and sense deprived so the narrator must be very conscientious in describing in a fun, entertaining way what is going on. Dialogue is where most new writers lose their clear voice, or perspective.
Outside of song lyrics and poetry; second narrative perspective is rarely found in prose. This is because, generally, the author uses the second voice to tell the reader how to feel, think and react. It can be rather aggressive and is meant to yank an emotion out of the reader they may or may not want to feel.
When the author is describing a scene, or telling a more in depth tale, the second voice generally evolves into reminiscence, or a character's desires, making it wander closer to first or third person perspective. This is fine and expected so it's easy to overlook.
In story writing the combining of first and third perspectives is more common, but if handled wrong can be very confusing.
Let’s take a look at the different types of voice and how they are used. Keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the most common forms that appear in writing.
Narrative Voice- In narrative voice the author can present the story he or she is weaving by allowing the reader to view a character's thought processes- those things that, normally, we can’t know about a character’s thought and feelings, or even their intimate past, can be presented by a narrator. The narrator could also read a letter that was written by one of the characters in the story, or simply recount a character's experiences. There is a degree of omniscience in this voice. The narrator asserts that he/she/it knows things that, ordinarily, we don't know about the motivations, thoughts, and feelings of others. Time isn't taken to get to know these characters; we are just given the necessary information we need to form opinions or understand the motivations of the character.
Stream-of-Consciousnes s Voice- SOC voice utilizes, almost always, the first person perspective. It attempts to replicate the thought processes of characters rather than simply telling the audience all about the actions, spoken words, thoughts, and feelings of the character. Examples of stream of consciousness voice are, but are not limited to; inner monologues, inner desires or motivations, and fragmented or otherwise incomplete thoughts expressed to the audience but not (necessarily) to other characters. This can be added into a larger piece of writing, such as a novel, to give more in depth study into the motivations and desires of characters so that the reader comes to know, from the character, what is going on inside of him/her/it.
This voice can be used in a shorter work, with the narrative voice, to prove that the narrator is speaking the truth. However, the author would come perilously close to crossing into an Unreliable Narrator Voice if this method is used.
Character Voice- Generally, in most first and third person perspective writing an actual person is presented as the narrator. This narrator is no longer a "Godlike voice" but is another character simply telling a story. Keep in mind this human narrator may, or may not, be intimately involved in the actions of the story and may, or may not, be biased for, or against, the other characters in the story.
If the character voice narrator is actively involved in the plot then they are referred to as the viewpoint character. The viewpoint character may only have a periphery role in the story but they are integral to the plot.
As the most common writing tool this is voice is easily understood by most writers and readers.
Unreliable Narrator Voice- This voice falls under the category of character voice, but the narrator is someone the reader is supposed to develop a mistrust or even outright dislike of. The point is to use this voice to give the reader a sense of disbelief in the story or a level of suspicion about what is true or false, right or wrong. It can be used if the narrator is psychologically disturbed, naive, completely ignorant, has an unavoidable bias. The narrator could also be purposefully trying to deceive the audience, or is a child or child-like. Child narrators, because of their lack of worldly experience are considered to be unreliable narrators.
Generally, this voice is utilized in a first person sort of narration but if the third person perspective is maintained, but the narrator is unreliable, she/he may be thought of as using "Third Person Subjective." Although the thoughts and ideas are being presented as a third person narrative; they are subject to the prejudices and biases of the character rather than fact as presented by the author.
Epistolary narrative- Though charged with meaning; this narrative is actually fairly common in romance novels, time travel stories, horror stories or other types of writings where a narrator is rarely utilized and the plot is carried by a series of letter or documents, such as a diary. If the author has collected many such "letters" then the work could be considered to have multiple narrators who could be classified separately, or the work could proceed without a narrator voice at all.
The whole story could be one long letter; a series of diary entries; or a plethora of letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings or other forms of literary works "found" by the author.
This voice can be intertwined with action sequences where we are given a clearer view of what is going on between the letters or diary entries. This is common in detective type stories where the audience is given a bit of information that the detective character then has to put into his/her investigation.
Alternatively, letters or diary entries can also be used to sum up the previous narrative or explain some point the author believes is important to stress.
There are, of course, further breakdowns of each of the voices, but for our purposes we'll stop here. Remember, when you are writing, to choose a voice that suits your story. If your story requires you to change voice be sure to give your reader plenty of opportunity to realize that the voice is or has changed. A few lines of dialogue are rarely enough to effect this change well so be prepared to set some other groundwork before you change things up for your reader. One effective way to change perspective in a novel type setting is to use a chapter break. For shorter works the author would perhaps include a descriptive paragraph to introduce the change and then proceed with the new voice. Think of this as if two or more people are recounting a story bound only by theme. If the listener is to remain caught up in the tale he/she must be introduced to the new speaker!
So to sum things up; if we make a study of the different voices commonly used in writing we can begin to mix it up with the proper respect paid to the reader. It is possible to combine first and third perspective in a story but it must be handled with care so that the reader doesn't end up lost, confused and/or worse, bored!
Second person perspective in a narrative generally becomes filler, wherein, the author begins to force the reader to relate to the story on a visceral level. It's easy to flip this to epistolary type voice with a letter, phone call or some other “evidence” collected by the narrator.