Narrative Voice and What It Means To You

By: Aryanne Ferguson

I’ve taken up painting. I paint with a $2 watercolor set and equally cheap brushes and paper. While I paint, I like to listen (to almost anything). Last week “The Great Gatsby”(2013) was playing on TV. I caught it at the beginning, so I sat down at the table, facing away from the TV, and listened while I painted. That movie relies heavily on voice-over, so in many ways it was like a book-on-tape. It got me thinking about narrative voice. I’ve touched on point of view before in an earlier blog about writing in the first person, but it’s only now that I’m debating the implications of narrative voice.

The narrator in the Gatsby story is passive – he’s used as a vehicle to tell Gatsby’s story, and he knows it. I didn’t come away from the experience liking or hating him. In most first person novels that I read, I like the narrator and adopt his/her point of view. But there are a few novels where I hated the narrator with such a burning passion that I kept reading the novel so I could experience the satisfaction of their complete and utter downfall (I’m glaring at you, narrator from Stephen Dobyns’s “The Church of Dead Girls,” and also the narrator from Sarah Waters’s “The Little Stranger.” I highly recommend both of these novels, by the way.). When I write, I tend to like all my characters. But I can think of one short story I wrote from the point of view of a character I couldn’t stand. It was a lot of fun! Have you tried it, Reader?

Towards the end of “The Great Gatsby” I finished painting, so I wandered over to look at the movie as it played. I didn’t like it – I like Leo as much as the next girl, but I preferred imagining the characters for myself over seeing them embodied in actors I’ve seen in other roles. I’ll take the book version any day.

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