The Difficulty Of Creating A Narrator

(sadly not everything I write can be in this annoying narrative voice)

Sometimes I feel like Kilgore Trout: I think I’m fairly creative when it comes to writing novels, but I suck at actually writing them; the problems of reworking everything relentlessly to the point where ‘writing’ becomes a series of edits rather than anything creative, and the fact that I honestly have to introduce token straight white males to my stories to balance out all the overly-diverse non-straight white male characters I write for some reason, are still there, but now there’s a new problem – who the frak is my narrator?

This isn’t a problem I considered before, because I was focused on creating characters and events and worlds for these things to happen in, but in reading back my latest stab at a new novel – one which has had its plot and characters meticulously planned out before any writing started, for perhaps the first time ever – I’ve realised how stupidly inconsistent my narrator’s voice is. Sometimes it’s omniscient, being able to see events across the galaxy of the novel, far away from the single canyon on Mars where the actual events take place, and sometimes it knows nothing, because the invading aliens have been noticeably undefined for the entirety of the text so far; equally, sometimes the voice is cold and objective, rattling off facts about a character’s past, or the current state of galactic politics, like a Wikipedia article or a codex page from the fan’s must-have guide that will totally be a thing once my novel is published and is inevitably a runaway success, and then the voice offers an opinion or a judgement on a character, totally out of the blue.

And I understand that constructing a narrator with a single identity can be a bit dull – the readers have too much confidence in the narrative voice they’re presented with, which is why the annoying, untrustworthy narrator Nick in The Great Gatsby is fun for a lot of people – and can limit the narrative, because if I go with an unknowing narrator, that closes off a lot of the world I want to create around the few events of my novel. Yet my flip-flopping narrator is too far to the other extreme, switching between voices often within the same sentence; this isn’t The Picture of Dorian Gray here, where Wilde offers a single opinion in the next through the narrator, the line ‘I think not.’ being a central part of the text.

I think it’s because I’ve not considered this to be a problem before; you can tell from these unedited, largely unplanned posts that my ‘default’ writing style is a bit of a haphazard, jumpy thing, with aggressive cynicism chucked in every other paragraph to get some cheap laughs to replace the lack of narrative consistency – if those jokes are cut out, which they must be in the novel I’m trying to write – you’re left with a bit of an aimless mishmash.

And I’m realising that constructing a narrator – who is omniscient enough to provide context without spelling everything out to the readers so it’s dull, and is objective enough to let readers form their own opinions on the events presented (as they should) but subtle enough to hint at which are the likeable characters and which are the dickheads in the mind of the author – will probably be the hardest part of writing this, or indeed any, novel. Not just because the problem is new to me, but because it’ll require a constant effort, a reworking of not only events and the style in which they are presented, but a checking of the narrative voice back to my original character sheet of my narrator, to check that everything fits their method of presenting information. Then I can start screwing around with those methods, presenting things in an out of character (because apparently the narrator is a character now!) way to mess with the readers’ expectations and understanding of the text.

But first I need to set up that narrator, and start putting those ideas I planned into a coherent narrative voice.

God it’s easy to write poetry when the narrator is the conveniently undefined ‘I’.


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