Thursday, April 21, 2011

Narrative Voice

flickr photo by moriza

It has taken a long time for me to recognize narrative voice as the heart and soul of my stories. Every writer develops a narrative voice with every story he tells, but skilled writers are more conscious of it as the underlying spirit of their works and they are able to use voice as a creative element. I have tended to step back and 'let the story tell itself'. But even that is a form of narrative, expressing who the teller is by his absence. In other words, if you don't step brashly forward, the reader will invent you as an aloof being they are trying to piece together from your script!

Readers want a sense of the story-teller. He cannot escape being part of his story.

More on that another time. What struck me this morning is narrative voice as the essence that separates literature from every other art form. Film and theatre can incorporate narrative voice, but when they do they are really straying into the realm of literature and it is a device they can only use sparingly. Their audiences want immediacy. They want to experience action through their own senses, not interpreted through the intellectual and emotional lenses of a story-teller.

This is what will perpetuate literature as an art form. Whether the narrative voice speaks from the pages of a book, through a book reader, in a YouTube clip, or even in a collaborative work with other art forms such as film or dance, the narrative voice is that distinctive quality that readers and listeners want to experience as part of the story.

There is an intimacy to writing that other art forms do not share. The reader or listener is actually allowing the writer to blossom inside his or her own brain as a narrative voice, and the reader as participant is creating a story with the writer. That is the beauty of the form. It is the same intimacy that people share around a café table or in a conversation with a friend. Or (for those with the courage to write this way), the dreadful intimacy of talking to someone you detest but cannot get away from.

For anyone who thinks literature is somehow passé I have one phrase to utter as my perpetuating mantra: Narrative Voice.

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