How to Write a Compelling Narrator

The more interesting the story, the better we enjoy the person telling it to us, but an irresistible narrator is a big part of what we like in a story. Here are some key things that contribute to the creation of an unforgettable voice:

1. The compelling narrator is as complicated as any person you know. He or she comes to the scene with the traumas and bright-penny memories that define him, and as this history seeps into the story, it adds richness and depth.

2. The narrator has a particular attitude that makes him both human and interesting. Is he a timid guy? A romantic? An addict? A fool?  A well-articulated persona is a hard to ignore.

3. The narrator has a point of view that remains consistent throughout the story. A consistent voice is easy to follow.

4.  The reader has to relate to the narrator—hate him or love him—for the narrator to be compelling. The narrator can be likeable, or not, and if not, has to arouse some compassion in the reader for hiswarts and flaws.

5.  Finally, a reader must trust his experience with the narrator. The narrator may not know everything about the tale—indeed, the narrator may be quite unreliable—but the reader has been drawn in by the force of his personality, or his charming quirks, or his most-human vulnerabilities . . . Whatever he says, we want to hear it.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo of Bert and Ernie by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML. Photo of women by Tayrawr Fortune.

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  1. I have to say this – for whatever reason, your topics always seem to have something to do with what I’m currently working on. Right now it’s re-writing a science fiction series and I need to power up my narrator!

  2. Aruni K.

     /  March 30, 2012

    I almost always write my stories in third-person omniscient point of view. In what way can I contribute these points into what I call as ‘know it all’ POV?

    • Hello Aruni. Good question! Yes, you can apply these basic principles to a 3rd person POV. What’s needed is to create a very sympathetic narrator in the sense that the narrator really uses all five senses in his/her powers of observation and brings that sensibility to a description of what he/she sees. Perhaps you can think of it like a painter and his subject. The painter picks out the details, the colors, the luster, and paints that. The painter picks the pose, the setting, the “message” of the piece (even in portrait), and paints that. It’s a selection process that is quite similar to what a 3rd POV does: you choose what gets said, and how, and when, and with what flavor and feel and touch . . . When the painting is done, the artist is gone. Just the painting remains. And if the painter has chosen the most dramatic of elements, the most expressive, you have a “compellling painter!” Same with your narrator. Same with your story. What your know-it-all narrator saw, felt, expressed, is what your reader is left with. // Please write again. Keep me posted as to how it’s going. D

  3. Well, well. Glad to be timely for you Julia. You go, girl! I’ve zero doubt that you can power it up as you see fit. Thanks for writing.

  4. Getting caught up on my blog reading. This was a great post- thank you! Also, in reference to the “This Writer Will Travel Anywhere” post- now I know why I like to travel so much!


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