I woke up thinking about writing today, which is nice, because usually I wake up wondering what day it is, why I have yet another stupid song stuck in my head or ruminating deeply on the need for urination. Today’s morning think was about voice.
I was stumbling around on the internet yesterday, as is my wont to do, and found a rather interesting, albeit dully-styled article entitled exercises for short story writers. I saved if for later, so when I was feel adventurous, I could try some of the exercises. If you are a writer and you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to read it yourself. The part of the article about which I woke up thinking was on voice:
- Third Person Restricted: We recognize this from the pronouns “he” or “she.” In this point of view, probably the most popular, and some would argue the most natural, all the action takes place in the presence of the character from whose point of view we learn the story. If we are taken “inside the head” of a character, it is only within this character’s head. The narrator does NOT tell us what anyone else thinks or feels. This character may or may NOT be the main character of the story.
- First Person: We recognize this from the pronoun “I.” Like third person restricted, all of the action takes place within this character’s presence, and we learn only his/her thoughts and feelings in any kind of direct fashion.
- Omniscient: As the word implies, this is a god-like point of view. The narrator freely moves from one character’s perspective to another. This point of view was far more popular in previous centuries than it has been in the current one, reflecting both the tastes of authors and the reading public. Using this point of view within a short story is very difficult to pull off with any success because of the space restrictions. It takes time to develop more than one character’s point of view.
- Second Person: We recognize this from the pronoun “you.” This point of view is rarely used except in some experimental writing. Literally “you” means the reader, and a story told from this point of view can quickly become tiresome. Authors often, however, slip into the highly vernacular syntactical structure of using the pronoun in a casual manner—I kind of “you know what I mean” statement—because the language used to tell stories is more often than not colloquial.
- Pure Dramatization: This really isn’t a “point of view” but occasionally a writer will produce a story that is very close to a play. That is, we receive almost all dialogue and very little narration, which usually seems little more than stage direction. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is about as close to this as any successful short story trying to accomplish this technique.
When I read the article yesterday, of course, in a typically self-centered human fashion, I mentally ran through all the fiction I’ve written and wondered whether I have tried all of the different voices. What I woke up thinking this morning is that I’d like to know exactly how many times I’ve used each, and if I haven’t used them all, I’d like to try.
I’m going to count just the fiction I have on this blog, which by the way, is more plentiful than I would have guessed, and you, my lucky reader, get to count along with me. What fun! By the way, when I called you “my lucky reader,” that was second-person voice, which I tend to use a lot when writing these silly blog posts, but rarely use when writing fiction.
I just went through all of the stories I have marked under the category of “fiction” on this blog. Initially, like the article says, I would have thought that I use third-person restrictive the most, but that’s not strictly the case. I tend to write most often as if I’m telling a story. It’s usually someone else’s story and it’s unclear whether I, the narrator, was actually there or not. The most common voice that I use is the “Gather ’round, kiddies, it’s story time” voice. This has me thoroughly confused as to what voice it actually is. It would take someone better versed in creative writing structure than I to figure it out. It’s not true third-person restrictive since I talk about the characters not necessarily through them, nor is it truly omniscient since I typically tell a story from only one person’s point of view. It’s a mixture of the two, which most people would call third-person omniscient, but I call Fairy Tale Omniscient because some of the stories like that are actually fairy tales.
These are true examples of what I mean by Fairy Tale Omniscience since they are actually fairy tales:
Some of my shorts relay the action as if I was telling a story the narrator either heard or witnessed that took place sometime in the past, which is also a kind of Fairy Tale Omniscience:
Some stories are privy to insider information on what the character is thinking, and could be considered straight omniscience since there’s only one character in the story:
Some stories are told through the point of view of only one character with a bit of omniscience, but there’s more than one character in the story:
However, I have used proper third-person restrictive in some stories. In such cases, I’m telling the story either through a main character’s point of view, as in Blind Date, or through someone’s point of view who isn’t a main character, but is in the story, as in Juan v. Giant.
Then there’s first person, which I’ve surprisingly used quite a bit, as in the following stories:
The following stories are written in first person, but with a little bit of second-person voice since they’re both written in journal format for an unknown future audience, which isn’t actually the same audience as the one I am writing for. I’ve turned both of these stories into longer pieces, but haven’t finished either of them yet:
Finally, I have written in what the article calls Pure Dramatization voice in A Chunk Of Fifty. That story is composed entirely of dialog between five different people with absolutely no narration at all. It took me a while to compose it and I think it turned out nicely. It was a fun exercise.
So, I have written in all the voices above, some more than others, and I’ve even made up a voice of my own. Basically, in writing this post, all I did was manage to confuse myself. I couldn’t decide which stories fit where. Eventually, I just kind of threw them in there willy-nilly just to be done with it. What I’ve learned is that I don’t really care about voices.
It does make me curious as to what voice I decide to write in for any given short and why. I don’t recall ever hemming and hawing over which voice to use when writing them; I think they just came out that way. If you are a writer, do you consciously think about voice before, after or during writing, or not at all? Do you have one that you prefer over another? Does it even matter?