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A-Z Challenge: N is for…

Narrative Voice

Memoir Writing

This post is one of 26 I am writing for the A-Z Challenge on the subject of writing a memoir. I’m not an expert in writing memoirs, but I’m exploring the topic with thoughts about writing one, and am happy to share the fruits of my exploration.

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There’s no doubt that the narrator of my memoir is me and the narrator of your memoir is you and the… you get the idea.

The question is: what does the narrative sound like? What voice should you use to describe and connect scenes?

The answer, I discovered from this thought-provoking article, is that memoirs usually have two voices. Here they are called the Voice of Innocence and the Voice of Experience.

MemoirWriting-NarrativeVoice

The Voice of Innocence is the point of view of the child (or teenager or younger adult) who experienced the scene. It can include your feelings at the time the scene took place.

The Voice of Experience is you, now, looking back on the same scene.

Both voices have something to offer the reader. Generally, without one of them, the memoir would not be complete.

The Voice of Experience can pop up anywhere in the narrative, so you can be flexible about your use of the two voices. I think this is the hardest point for me. I try to be over-organised. I would tend to describe each scene with the Voice of Innocence and then add a comment in the Voice of Experience. While such an approach would be suitable for a software development kit (don’t worry about the name – it comes from my technical writing background), it would be far too rigid and non-creative for a memoir.

That’s enough from me. When you begin to ramble, you should know it’s time to stop. Do you want to voice any opinions about voice?

Note: I love to read your comments, especially when they’re attached to the right post. Please remember the Comment link is at the top of this post.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life.

5 replies on “A-Z Challenge: N is for…”

I found that sometimes it could be difficult to make clear to the reader when I’d slipped from the ‘voice of innocence’ to the ‘voice of experiences’, without sounding clunky. But, yes, I agree that both voices offer something to the reader, so it’s important to find ways that show how we saw things then and how we see it now. Sometimes there may be no difference, but sometimes there is.

Perhaps I never did get the hang of doing it seamlessly. I tended to write a scene from the perspective of how it was back then, sometimes following it with the transition to the ‘voice of experience’ by saying something like, ‘That’s the way it seemed to me at the time. But now I think…’ I suppose that is clunky. A more skillful writer than me could probably weave both voices into a scene while describing it and still convey clearly which voice is which, but, at the same time, not ‘break the spell’ of taking the reader back there with you to experience vicariously how it was for you at the time. Difficult. I’m still trying to figure out how best to do that.

I know that fiction is somewhat different but one does have to deal with the narrative voice in similar ways I face these problems when I have to change from descriptive background or scene setting to presentence narrative of intimate moments or character building.
The clunk danger is always there too.
I think one has to give the reader some credit for knowing what you are doing and allowing for these transitions. Most readers are able to sense how the writer is using their narrative and will be complicit in the style one chooses. They will do as theatre audience do, they will suspend their disbelief if one carries them along in a well paced narrative flow.
I guess I’m saying, one can over think this process. The craft shouldn’t intrude, the art is in the hiding of the crafting. The narrator should be the readers friend and guide but should never bully or prod with too much crafting made visible.

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