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What does "Voice" have to do with Narrative Viewpoint?

This is the first post in my Narrative Viewpoint Series.

Viewpoint is something that should be decided during the early stages, or addressed during developmental editing. Find out more in my post about the different types of editing.

Viewpoint is one of the main things new authors get twisted up about when writing their stories.

Narrative viewpoint, or point of view, describes the head we were in while reading the story.

While editors and writers have different opinions on the best points of view, they ‌agree that nailing your POV is important. The benefits are substantial.

  • In the same way, a good perspective will breathe life into your story, a bad perspective will deflate it.

  • Having a clear POV will help you save money when hiring an editor.

A master editor, Sol Stein, said in his book, “Stein on Writing, “It can be said that one slip of point of view by a writer can hurt a story badly, and several slips can be fatal.”

I like Steins' definition of point of view, “It means the character whose eyes are observing what happens, the perspective from which a scene or story is written.”

The reason it’s so important is POV is how your reader will relate to the world you built. It’s the camera lens in which you tell your story.

It helps the reader feel safe and trusting you to lead them on a journey. Problems with POV will jar the reader and undermine the effectiveness of your story. It will keep them from investing deeply in your story.


When it comes time to speak the words of your story, whose voice will we hear?

Who is telling the story?

Is it the voice you use when speaking to your mother?

Or how about the voice you use with your friends at a bar watching the football game?

Everyone has different voices for different situations and relationships. I don’t use the same voice at home as I do at work. I’m a supervisor at work, and using that authority at home would not sit well with my husband.

When it comes to telling a story, a whole new world opens up.

Let’s look at an example from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

“Why is that women don’t make war, I wonder?”

“Ye’re no made for it, Sassenach.” His hand cupped my cheek, hard and rough. “And it wouldna be right; you women take so much more with ye, when ye go.”

“What do you mean by that?”

He made the small shrugging movement that meant he was looking for a word or notion, an unconscious movement, as though his coat was too tight, though he wasn’t wearing one at the moment.

“When a man dies, it’s only him,” he said. “And one is much like another. Aye, a family needs a man, to feed them, protect them. But any decent man can do it. A woman…” His lips moved against my fingertips, a faint smile. “A woman takes life with her when she goes. A woman is… infinite possibility.”

There’s no question as to who’s speaking when you’re reading this series. Right away you know this is Jamie, even without a dialogue tag.

You, as the author, have to get “in character” when writing certain POVs. It’s almost like acting. You talk how they would talk. This is what I mean by voice.

Whether you’re writing in first person or third, you can dip into an original personality when you approach it like this.

Deciding on which voice you want to use is only the first step with a narrative viewpoint.

The next step is to learn about tense.

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