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Writing Styles for Fiction: Which Voice to Use

I recently set up a website to promote a new suspense novel. Once it started receiving hits I began getting questions about why I chose to write in third person. The truth is, I didn't make a conscious decision to write that way. I just sort of happened and I went with it. As I got through the manuscript, I found that writing in the third person "flowed" better than any other voice since throughout the story I used a lot of dialogue between characters. It just fit. Other people wrote and asked what difference it makes which voice you write in and that's what I'll try to address here.

First of all, choosing which voice to use depends entirely on how you intend to tell your story and how you want your readers to interpret it. You have three choices of voice to choose from. Consider these very basic examples taken from my upcoming book:

First Voice:
"You're welcome to live with your old dad Mathew. My door is always open," I yelled as I got into my car.

Second Voice:
"You're welcome to live with your old dad Mathew. My door is always open," you yelled as you got into your car.

Third Voice:
"You're welcome to live with your old dad Mathew. My door is always open," he yelled as he got into his car.

As you can see from these examples, the voice used gives the reader a feel for who's talking in these situations. There are, of course other scenarios I could have used but this illustrates my point on a very basic level. I use third person almost always in my books and it seems to be the preferred voice for most fiction writing. It can, however get a little complicated. For instance, there are different points of view (POV) of third person.

Third Person Omniscient
The author knows everything about all characters, including all feelings, emotions, thoughts. The author knows it all and can choose to relay all of this info to the reader, or none of it. Using third person omniscient, the author is in complete control to guide the reader and leave no room for interpretation.

Third Person Objective
The author relates to the reader only what can be seen or heard by a character, usually the main character. The reader is left to interpret the feelings and thoughts of the other characters by what they say or do.

Third Person Limited
The author presents the story from the mind of a single character. This is the most common voice in fiction because it lends itself well to many different situations.

What about First and Second Person Voice? I haven't forgotten about those. Lets take a look briefly at Second Person since it is the least likely to be used in fiction writing. Writing using the Second Person POV can be a little irritating to a reader and is not used much anymore. Take a look at this example:

Example: You are going to a movie with a friend. You know your friend doesn't want to see the movie but you stick to your dogged insistence. When you get to the theatre, you see that your friend is utterly frustrated.

Writing in the Second Person POV uses "you" quite a bit and is often used in present tense. I get rather annoyed reading material which is written predominantly in this voice and would think an author would have quite a job holding a readers attention for very long.

Let's take a look at First Person POV. First Person POV uses one of the characters to tell the story. First Person POV uses the "I" voice and can be very powerful as it personalizes the character to the reader.

Example: I was going to a movie with a friend. I knew she didn't want to see the movie but I stuck to my dogged insistence. When we got to theatre, I could see in her face how utterly frustrated she was.

Here you can see the same scenario, but now it is told from the POV of one of the characters. Your readers will identify with the character instead of feeling the urge to defend themselves against your constant telling them how they feel. Be careful when using First Person, however. It limits you to the POV of only one character. Your story can easily become very one-sided or boring.

Okay, how about combining the voices? It can be done, but it takes skill, and should be done with caution. Most writers tend to avoid combining, opting instead to choose a voice early on, and pretty much stick with it throughout the book. Combining can easily confuse both you, while writing, as well as your readers.

When writing fiction, remember to choose a voice and stick with it. Try using each of the three points of view and use the one you feel most comfortable. Combine if you must, but use caution and do it sparingly.

Kenneth R. Eaton writes suspense/thrillers. Visit his website at to get more tips and info concerning fiction writing.

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