In books, there is one goal—the suspension of disbelief.
Narrative voice is what you use to do this. It’s the VOICE of the storyteller.
The styles of voice are complex, so it’s advised that you pick up a few good books with writing exercises to help you get comfortable with them if you’re just starting out.
But here’s a rough summary:
Before you begin you want to decide which voice would best tell your story. Third person narrative voice is the most traditionally used in fiction writing, although in the last decade first has made a big comeback.
The one exception to this rule is prologue and epilogue. Those are seen as separate “bookends” to the main story. You can have a first person story and a third person epilogue, that’s fine. It’s just important that throughout the main event you keep one narrative and do not switch voice.
This is usually the point where someone shouts, “But in Ethan Frome…!” Yes, Edith Wharton's ETHAN FROME is one of the rare examples where the story is structured to have two voices. Reading it, I believe it to be crafted that way. The difference is that most modern books are going to follow the standard, and the voice switch has to serve a purpose. It can't be there to make-up for anything the voice you picked initially didn't cover. Unfortunately, voice is one of those "learn the rule, then you can bend it" principles.
The guideline isn’t put in place to be stodgy or to thump the rulebook, it’s to say that jumping voice halfway through disrupts the flow. It puts ripples in the suspension of disbelief.
Essentially you’re putting two narrators in one story: the character’s voice and the omniscient’s and that’s going to startle your reader.
Imagine that you’re riding along in the character’s first person perspective, it’s “I felt,” and “my life.” Then out of the blue, a loudspeaker turns on and starts calling the character “she, her…” The story shifts, doesn’t it? You look around and start to ask questions: Who in the heck is this other voice??
It’s funny but true. The last thing you want is your reader questioning who's telling the story. There’s a fine line between creative freedom and inconsistency, and you don’t want to sink your manuscript by being too avant-garde.
Sticking with one voice is the way to go.
Tomorrow’s letter is one I’ve been looking forward to—O is for Onomatopoeia.
I promise to keep it short and fun.