When writing gurus talk about voice in a story, they are referring to the narrator’s voice, the protagonist’s voice, the person telling the story. And many times this has a lot to do with the author voice as well. We tend to infuse our narrators with wit, poignancy, or anything needed to tell our stories, whether fiction or memoir.
There is so much to know about the different narrators in story; omniscient, limited, first person, etc. For this post, I’d like to concentrate on the voice of the narrator in memoir.
There are two kinds of narrators in memoir and the author needs to decide where she is standing when she is telling her story. T“what the narrator knows and when she knows it.”
According to Jennie Nash of Author Accelerator, there are two narrators in memoir:
the writer, the person who lived the experience
the writer, the person who is telling the experience.
In story, it is who knows what, and when they know it. In memoir, there is the narrator at the beginning of the story arc and narrator at end of the story arc. In most stories, the character needs to grow and change no place more so than in memoir.
In my case, the narrator at the end of the story arc is the Victoria after her experience of attending college and graduating. What did she get out of it? Was it worth taking time away from the family to obtain that diploma?
But to tell this college story, I needed to choose:
Was I going to tell the memoir story as a narrator standing in the present time looking back on my college experience? Was I going to tell my college story as a narrator with the experience of having gone through college?
Was I going to tell the story as an unknowing narrator actually going through the college experience for the first time?
Nash explains that a narrator in memoir who knows what she knows presently, after her experience, looking back is a more powerful narrator for the story.
So as memoir writers, we have to know: who in the story knows what, and when they know it. In memoir you have:
The Narrator – unknowing before the experience or knowing after the experience
The Character in the memoir story
The real Person who lived the memoir story.
Three different selves the memoir writer has to master. This is the difficult part of memoir story. If you don’t know the roles those three different selves are playing, you’ll struggle. And believe me; I struggled tremendously with this understanding. I still do.
As a writer of fiction, you have:
The narrator and
NOT the person who lived the tale. This doesn’t come into play in fiction. But you still need to decide who in your story knows what information and when do they know it?
This is not an easy concept to understand. I hope I’m making sense here for you. It's ONE narrator then in my college memoir. I needed to choose how to tell the story; whether I was looking at the experience at the time of attending college as an unknowing narrator
if I was telling the story in the present time, after attending college with all the knowledge and insight gained since, looking back at my experiences.
I chose to tell my college story as a knowing narrator after my college experience looking back on my experiences. I still have my character Victoria going through the experiences. I still have the real person Victoria who actually lived the college experiences; how she felt, what she did, how she coped. But my narrator is an experienced narrator who can infuse the manuscript [story] with knowledge gained from college and life experiences.
I’d like to thank Jennie Nash of Author Accelerator for helping me to understand the different narrators and character selves in memoir.
Please ask any questions about my college memoir and share any insight you may have in the comments section of Adventures in Writing about the voice of the narrator in your story. Thanks so much!
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