Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Narrative writing techniques

Do you have a preference for the way fiction is told? Do you have a favourite voice of a child narrator, from a book? Maureen Mann looks at the place of narrative voice to connect readers to the characters and events in a story. 

We Were Wolves by Jason Cockcroft
Walker Books, 2021

The narrative voice, or point of view, is how the author tells the story. When the author tells the story as though they are the main character, usually using the pronouns “I, me, we, us” and the present tense, the reader discovers the story through the perspective of this one character. This format has one disadvantage in that the reader only sees this one person’s perspective. This single point of view allows the reader to feel closer to the events, as well as developing empathy and compassion for those involved but it has the disadvantage that other events may happen and can’t be relayed if the narrator has not seen or experienced them. The boy narrator (unnamed) has a powerful voice in Jason Cockcroft’s We Were Wolves. 

The Right Way to Rock
by Nat Amoore
Penguin Books, 2021

The lens widens when the author uses multiple narrators all of whom relate their experiences, still using first person pronouns. The reader has a more complex view of the world being presented and because of this complexity, this style of writing demands more of the reader. Nat Amoore combines 1st person with stage directions, to widen viewpoint, in The Right Way to Rock. 

Is There a Dog in this Book?
Viviane Schwarz, Walker Books 2021

Less frequently, authors use the second person, which can be recognised by using the pronouns “you and your”. Many “Choose your own Adventures” use this voice.  The narrator can distance himself from the events at the same time suggesting that the reader can make decisions. Try Vivian Schwarz’s Is There a Dog in This Book?

The third person narrative uses the pronouns “he, she, it, they, his, her, their” and tells events looking in from the outside, but the narrator is not involved. This technique allows the reader to be removed from what’s happening. Third person limited is restricted to the knowledge, perspective, and experiences of a single character. J. K. Rowling uses this to effect in the Harry Potter series as does Jessica Townsend in the Morrigan Crow series. 

Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend. Hachette.

The Day the Crayons Quit
by Drew Waywalt
Harper Collins, 2018

The third person multiple allows the author to use more than one person to tell the story, all presenting their unique perception of what’s happening. This allows greater complexity and change, but it can result in the reader becoming confused if the voices are not sufficiently distinct. Drew Waywalt harnesses this perspective very cleverly as he presents the voices of each pencil in the pencil box in The Day the Crayons Quit.

Mad Magpie by Gregg Driese
 Magabala, 2016

The third person omniscient is able to see everything, can be god-like in his/her knowledge and understanding and is not limited by having to present just one point of view.  This is usually used for traditional stories, myths and legends.  

What’s your preference? I haven’t included many examples, so would love to hear from you. Do you have some favourite recent Australian books which we could include? 

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader 

1 comment:

  1. An interesting read Maureen. You alerted me to the knowledge that I am not conscious of the narrative voice in books I read. So I guess that means I don't have a preference?