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Using Varied Narrative Styles And Formats In A Novel, by Paul Volponi

The Final Four by Paul Volponi

Choosing a type of narration is always interesting for a novelist. I usually have my characters tell their story in the first-person. I feel it brings intimacy to a novel. After all, the main character will be able to describe every sensation himself or herself in a very personal, and hopefully moving, way. I think you need a certain comfort level with your story to attempt this. For fledgling teen novel writers, a first-person narration may provide a better shot at publication. Why? Consider this: We are used to telling our own stories to people in conversation. We’ve had a lot of practice at it over the course of our lives. So maybe we are the most naturally polished at first-person narration.

In Rikers High, I have Martin Stokes, a.k.a. Forty (named after his bed number) narrate in the first-person so he can describe the fear and anger of a teen stuck in a school inside the world’s largest jail. When I wrote Black and White, however, the story of two best friends who commit a crime together and experience different legal outcomes, I needed two people to feel things first-hand. So I decided on two first-person narrators telling their story in alternating chapters. Several years later, I wrote The Final Four, which centers on the lives of four basketball players in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There, four first-person narrators would have been too much, so I needed to establish a new third-person voice for myself. Also, by this time, I had slowly started to experiment with other types of narrative devices, including the interjection of newspaper articles within my novels, along with dialogue scenes written in play format. In relation to this, I decided to write The Final Four as if the reader was not only riding shotgun over our players’ shoulders, but also hearing the game on radio, getting TV updates, seeing player interviews, and reading that day’s newspaper preview articles about a game that was taking place in the moment.

My advice? Don’t be afraid to create your own mixed bag of narration. Don’t ever feel boxed-in. Use your judgment as to whether your narration, no matter which style you choose, might be enhanced by mixing styles of narration. This might provide the reader with a fresh perspective and interesting breaks before going back to the novel’s main format.


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Rikers HighRooftopBlack and WhiteHurricane Song     Deadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Raven Speak

Writing Teen Novels

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve written exclusively third-person omniscient for about 20 years now, and rarely will write something closer to third-person limited if a book is focused on just one character instead of an ensemble cast in addition to the main character(s). It’s the most flexible, creative, personal POV I can imagine. But I do like, when appropriate, having short first-person interludes in the form of letters, journal entries, notes, or op-eds, and writing in only one character’s voice for a few pages. I doubt I’d be able to write an entire book in first-person, since it’s not my style anymore.

    November 11, 2013

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