Monday, April 4, 2011

Keep it Real: Crafting a Good Narrative Tone

Yo homeslice, what’s the 411 on the blogosphere and the intertubes today?

Okay, so that’s kind of exaggerated, but it’s perfect for what I want to talk about today: narrative tone and style. It can be tough to keep your narration from being too casual or too formal, so I wanted to discuss some tips for crafting that perfect voice.

Unlike the first sentence of this post, you should try to keep your narration—regardless of whether it is first person or third person—from being overly casual. Try to avoid using lots of slang terms and idiomatic phrases if you can. Even though it may seem like it fits in with your story and the featured protagonist, it can be very difficult for us interns to sift through colloquialisms to learn about the characters and the plots while reading manuscripts. If you’re unsure about how casual to go, I would recommend making your writing slightly more formal than a well-written blog post (see those of my fellow interns for inspiration!)

But you should also be careful about being too formal as well. We’re interested in commercial fiction, not nouveau nineteenth century literature. While I love the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens’ novels as much as the next girl (Mr. Rochester, anyone?), modern day fiction can’t be quite that formalized. But it is possible to find that happy medium. One book that I love that’s written in a relatively formal narrative style is Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It keeps the reader interested in what is going on without seeming overly formal or overly casual. I’m not advising you to copy Chabon’s writing style, but reading well written fiction often helps me with my own writing – if only as a way to set a high bar for myself.

It can be difficult to find that line between too casual and too formal, and sometimes you might just want to use a character voice, which is fine too. Character voices can add a lot to a story and can keep your readers engaged from the very first sentence. One piece of advice, though: make sure that your character voice fits in with the overall tone of your story. A harrowing murder mystery won’t read as well if the heroine’s narration is that of a Carrie Bradshaw-type, and vice versa. But feel free to develop your character voices any way you want.

Hope this helps a bit on your quest for the perfect narrative tone. Good luck and happy writing!


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