You've carefully thought out your characters and planned the plot and
structure of a novel. Then, once your characters
get moving and start revealing new aspects of themselves that you never
expected, everything changes. They'll start doing things in your story that you
hadn't planned and you'll find yourself going back to rework your plan. Again.
You are not the puppet master. You are a novelist.(Image courtesy of Matthijs and altered.)
writer of novels, you have to give up control. Planning gives you direction and helps you move through the story so you don't get stuck, but no matter
how much you prepare, your characters will eventually take over.
There is one place you probably can retain a shred of your
control, though. It's unusual (but not impossible) for a narrator to change
drastically from your early plan... as long as you know who your
is more to know than who your point of view character is, whether the
narrator is first-person, third-person, third-person omniscient, or
alternating person, or whether she is telling the story in past or
present. Hell, is it a second-person story told in future tense?
don't care. That's not what I'm talking about right now.
talking about the voice of the narrator.
something a lot of new writers forget about when they write in
third-person. But it's what defines the voice of the story, too.
Here are the 6 simple questions to ask about your narrator:
visible is the narrator?
You might have a narrator who is plucky or clever or menacing and that may create an engaging story. A narrator like this can also get in the way of the story or overpower it. Your narrator could also be nearly invisible. You can do this and still create an
interesting reading experience. Sometimes it's better not to draw
attention to the narrator, but knowing the narrator is still
important because, even if she seems nearly invisible, she is still
the one telling the story.
of those wallflowers at the middle school dance. They may be hiding,
but they still have a specific view of the situation—and often it
is more intriguing than the view of the kids who dance wildly.
much does the narrator know?
Does the narrator know the
thoughts, feelings, motivations, and history of the protagonist? Of
the other characters, too? Or does she offer only limited
Too often, when I edit or teach, I find inconsistency in what a narrator knows. If your narrator describes everyone's actions and only explains the protagonist's inner thoughts, then she begins justifying another character's feelings because the story calls for an explanation of why he feels that way, then you need to re-think your narrator—or find another way to get that information across. If not, it's jarring to the reader to suddenly gain insight when we never had that access.
Think about this: Can
readers glean information from context and narrative connotation? Does the reader know more than the narrator?
the narrator active in, or witness to, the action? Or is the story second-hand?
This sort of narrator will have limited knowledge of the story. She will only know what others have told her and can suppose things based on what she knows of the characters. Or she may have certain opinions based on her relationship with the characters.
Or is the narrator telling a story as she heard it? Think of those times when you tell a story over dinner, a story that has been told to you. How much of the event do you actually know? How does your knowledge affect the story? What do you do when there is a gap in knowledge?
the narrator objective?
As an observer, she may interpret thoughts and
feelings of the characters or describe details, like setting in a
way that reveals more or offers more impact than with someone
involved in the story.
is the narrator in time?
Are past recollections fresh, or
distant, and maybe hazy?
is the story being told, and why now?
What does the
narrator want the reader to know? Yep. The narrator has motivation, too.