Voices in Your Head

retro-microphoneWhether it’s a poem or novel, all of your writing will fall flat if you don’t get the voice right. The voice of a piece is your voice, the voice with which you whisper your story into the readers’ ear. And just like telling a story verbally, if you don’t adopt the right tone you will cause frustration and confusion.

Here are just a few voices used by authors:

First-person: This means actually taking on the voice of your lead character and telling the story as they would tell it. It is immensely powerful and allows you to discuss emotional reactions in detail, but it’s not without limitations. It’s ultimately an illusion and, if you break voice or say something that’s not suited to your character, you will shatter the illusion.

Unreliable narrator: A cousin of the first-person, this is where you allowed the truth to be altered by the emotions or prejudices of the main character. The trick is to include a few details that don’t quite sit with the overall story, making your reader gradually lose trust. American Psycho is an excellent example of this difficult technique.

Third-person: Once upon a time, almost all fiction was third-person, though it is increasingly falling out of fashion. Third-person is great for big stories with multiple plots as it allows you to move around between each strand. Be careful of dipping into the emotions of each character though, as this usually feels tacky to the reader.

Omniscient: Essentially, this is when the author moves around like a god, freely jumping into the minds of each character whenever they see fit. It’s something that almost all fledging writers do by mistake, and most editors and creative writing teachers will soon tell you to stop. That’s not to say it can’t be done at all: Frank Ronan’s novel Dixie Chicken does this with abandon, sidestepping the inherent problems by allowing God himself to be the narrator.

So what’s the right voice for your story? Nobody can say. You just need to listen to the story and see if you can hear the voice it wants to be told in.


Robert Hatfield hails from mid-western Ohio. Comedy and Adventure stories are his passion. Editing and Reviewing are the fields of work he enjoys. Writing has been an interest for the past 25 years and he now has the time to pursue it. As a Moderator on, he welcomes any questions or requests for help.

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2 replies
  1. Killerelite
    Killerelite says:

    This is a great article Robert. One that is rarely discussed. Having learned a great deal about this over the last several months while writing my book has been a culmination self learning and diatribe tossed at me by an editor. Your are dead on with your prognosis of listening to the story. I’ve heard that time and time again.

  2. Forgewright
    Forgewright says:

    Killer, You and tlhopkinson recently commented on my abilities to write humor. I can tell you that much of what I write in the way of humor comes to me without thinking to much about it. I suppose my childhood attempts to avoid whoopings by making my dad laugh would account for the brain pathways for this gift. If I am writing for fun this process working well. if I am writing with seriousness then it is a whole other sports affiliation. There is a certain Rainman quality to it. Yea, definitely funny.

    Thanks for your comment,

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