A narrative’s voice describes how the narrative is presented or conveyed to the reader. For example, a narrative may be conveyed through a specific character’s perspective, through another character’s retelling of the events, or through letter correspondence. The narrative voice of the story comes from the story’s narrator, the person or thing, telling the story.
Aspects and Types of Narrative Voice
The narrator is the viewer through whom or what the reader sees the story. The narrator does not have to be a character in the story, or even a person at all. Narration is simply a perspective used to relay the events of the story. To analyze the story’s narrative voice, the reader must consider four aspects: point of view and the narrator’s degrees of omniscience, objectivity and reliability. These aspects creates five general types of narrative voice: objective or dramatic, framed, omniscient, limited omniscient and first-person.
Objective and Framed
In objective or dramatic narration, the story is set in the present and the reader is presented with very little information about the past or the future. This type of story is mainly based on events and actions and dialogue. A framed narrative is a narrative voice that introduces an embedded narrative, a story within a story. Frame narrative voices give the embedded narrative a degree of perspective and are occasionally used to connect a series of stories, such as Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”
Omniscient and Limited Omniscient
A story with omniscient narrative voice is narrated in the third-person style, and the narrator has unlimited knowledge about the story’s events, characters and conflicts. A story with limited omniscient narrative voice is narrated with the third-person perspective, and the narrator is associated with a character in the story. This narrator can tell the reader his thoughts and feelings but not those of the other characters. The character may be the main or a minor character in the story, and he might be directly involved in the events and conflicts of the story or might be only the observer of the events. A longer narrative, like a novel, may use one or several limited omniscient narrative voices. For example, a novel may tell a story about a divorce, using both the wife’s and husband’s perspective in alternating chapters.
The first-person narrative voice uses “I” and typically tells the story from the main character’s perspective. Writers might use four types of first-person narrative voices: interior monologue, subjective narration, detached autobiography and observer narration. The interior monologue is a kind of train-of-thought narration, which may be reliable or unreliable. Subjective narration is an unreliable narrator who tries to convince the reader of his views. Detached autobiography is a reliable narrator who typically reflects on his past. Observer narration is either reliable or unreliable, and the narrator is mainly an observer rather than a participant in the story.