Narrative Voice | Definition, Properties & Examples


The craft of storytelling is not limited to the elements such as characters, plot, and setting. One of the most important yet dramatically understated elements in strong narrative writing is voice.

The means through which a narrative is narrated has been referred to aptly as “narrative voice.” This can greatly bias that story’s reception and change how readers interpret characters and situations. It can even affect understanding at all levels, up to undermining comprehension.

This article focuses on narrative voice, features, types, and how it is utilized.

Definition: What is Narrative Voice?

In literary terms, the narrative voice is the character or entity via whom a reader relives the plot. It is the point of view in which the events in a story are recounted. Although voice is often confused with the author’s words, narrative voice does not necessarily belong to the same source. 

Narrative ghost writers might use a character in the story (first and second-person narratives) or an external entity not directly involved in the narrative plot line (third person).

Properties of Narrative Voice

The following characteristics often define narrative voice.

1. Point of View

Who is telling the story determines the point of view. There can be first-person (I, we) where one of the characters tells a story. It can be second-person (you), directed at the readers, and third-person narrator who accounts for given events.

2- Tone

The narrative voice’s tone affects how readers react emotionally to this story. It might be happy, sad, gloomy, sarcastic, sober, or any other emotion. The narrator’s voice, therefore, determines the tone or mood of an entire story.

3- Reliability

The trustworthiness of a narrative voice refers to its reliability. A truthful narrator gives facts and reliable information. Nevertheless, an untrustworthy narrator brings in ambiguity, and the reader must determine between truth and a lie.

4- Degree of Omniscience

Omniscience establishes how much the narrator knows. An omniscient narrator knows everything about these characters and events. In contrast, a limited narrator can know only as much as one character does or has very little knowledge of the series.

Types of Narrative Writing

Narrative pieces span different literary forms such as historical writings, Horror Fiction Writing, short stories, epics, and ballads. Yet, regardless of their format, narrative writing services emphasize that narratives predominantly fall into four primary categories.

  • Linear
  • Nonlinear
  • Descriptive
  • Viewpoint

In this type of narrative, the narrator follows an order of events. The fictional or non-fictional story unfolds from start to finish. 

  • Linear Narrative

Linear narrative style can be identified in Bildungsroman (or coming-of-age novels). Popular examples of linear narratives include ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D Salinger, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and Charles Dickens’ Last but not Least.’ 

The other forms of writing that follow a narrative style include historical pieces, biographies, and autobiographies.
Linear narration is evident in the movie ‘Moana.’ It begins with Moana as a young girl growing up to be fully acquainted with her culture and responsibilities towards the tribe. 

This style is well-suited to the theme and plot. You notice that Moana is always attracted to the ocean, determines what her life means, and crosses the sea to rescue people from destruction.

  • Nonlinear Narrative

A nonlinear narrative does not tell the story chronologically. This is the type of story that has flashbacks. It goes back and forth from some point. This style of narration prevails in most suspense thriller novels and movies. Other lighter themes are also shown in this way. 

Other novels which employ the nonlinear narrative include ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, ‘The Sound and the Fury’ by William Faulkner, among others.

  • Descriptive Narrative

In this mode of narration, the audience is made to see and feel what world the characters live in. A descriptive narrative includes words and word groups that create images in readers’ minds.

Descriptive narrative is demonstrated in works such as ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Arundhati Roy’s The God Small Things.

Most of you may have watched ‘Avatar’ and ‘Avatar: Way of the Water’. Both movies use the descriptive technique. The Avatar world is represented so the viewers form an identity with characters and surroundings.

  • Viewpoint Narrative

A viewpoint narrative is a kind of literature where there exists either the first, second or third-person narrator. The change in pronoun use depends on who narrates these happenings. The most dominant point-of-view narratives are the first-person narrative and third-person narrative. The First-person point of view is used in writing autobiographies and third-person for presidential biographies.

First-person narratives include John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.’ 

Third-person narratives include such novels as ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott and ‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison. The second-person narrative does not have as many books compared to the first and third-person narratives. 

Nevertheless, others are beautifully presented. The novels Ghost Light’ by Joseph O’Connor and ‘If on a Winter’s Night, a Traveler’ by Italo Calvino are written in the second-person narrative. Read these novels and see the impact different perspectives have on the reader.

The first-person narrator of the movie, ‘The Life of Pi,’ is Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi). Bagheera, the panther in ‘The Jungle Book,’ tells about how Mowgli joined the wolves and what is happening. This can be referred to as a third-person narrative structure.

Examples of Narrative Voice

Let’s look at some examples to appreciate the concept of narrative voice.

First-Person Voice – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s seminal work uses the first-person narrative voice, with young Scout Finch as the narrator. This choice gives readers a child’s perspective of the events unfolding during a racially charged trial in 1930s Alabama. 

For instance, Scout’s innocent voice and naive understanding of the complex social issues contribute enormously to the novel’s emotional resonance.

Excerpt: “Until I feared losing it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Second-Person Voice – “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney

Jay McInerney’s novel breaks traditional norms by using a second-person narrative. The authorial choices in employing ‘you’ create an intimate, engaging storytelling style, pulling the reader directly into the story.

Excerpt: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”

Third-Person Voice – “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling uses the third-person limited narrative voice in the Harry Potter series. Though an external entity narrates, the voice closely follows Harry Potter, helping readers identify and empathize with him.

Excerpt: “Harry — yer a wizard.”

Unreliable Voice – “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

An example of an unreliable narrative voice can be seen in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” Holden Caulfield, the narrator, distorts reality, often stretches the truth, and has a strongly biased viewpoint, leaving readers to piece the real story themselves.

Excerpt: “I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw. It’s awful.”


The narrative voice is a silent yet incontrovertible element of any narrative. It allows the story writers to control how events unfold and characters emerge.

We hope that with this article now, you understand what narrative writing is and what types are there.

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