Tip Sheet Narrative Voice

1. WORDS

What kind of vocabulary does the author favor? Does she use long words or short ones, Anglo-Saxon words or Latinate words, colorful words or plain ones, an expansive vocabulary or a limited one, lots of slang and jargon or very little?

Does the author rely more on verbs and nouns, or on adverbs and adjectives?

Does the author choose words for their literal meaning, or for their color, sound, emotional weight, and subtle connotations?

2. SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS

Does the author favor short or long sentences? Short or long paragraphs?

Are the sentences constructed simply (subject—verb— object) or are they more complex (including compound sentences, subordinate clauses, etc.)?

How much variety is there in the structure of sentences and paragraphs?

Does the author's approach to sentences and paragraphs vary according to the type and purpose of the scene, or is it consistent throughout the story?

3. RHYTHM

What kind of rhythm does the prose have when it is read aloud? How much does the author vary the rhythm for different kinds of characters, events, or scenes?

4. DEGREE OF FORMALITY

Is the tone of the story casual and informal or formal and proper? Does the author adhere to proper grammar or take liberties with it?

5. LINEAR VERSUS LAYERED NARRATIVE

Is the narrative straightforward, linear, and presented in chronological order? Or is it layered, elliptical, branching, or pieced together like a quilt?

To what extent does the author move about from present to past or future events?

What devices does the author use to move around in time (e.g., frames or flashbacks)?

6. BALANCE AMONG ACTION, DIALOGUE, DESCRIPTION, AND EXPOSITION

What is the blend or balance of action, dialogue, and description? How much of each does the author use? Which does he favor?

To what extent does the author show, not tell? Does the author impart information through scenes or through exposition?

How much of the story is focused internally (i.e., the thoughts or interior life of a character) and how much is focused externally (i.e., on action, or on observations of the character from outside)?

7. DETAILS

What kinds of details does the author use to describe a person, event, or scene?

Is the author lavish or sparing in the use of details? Is the style lush or lean?

How does the author direct the reader's attention? What does she hold up for the reader to notice?

8. SUSPENSE

What level of suspense does the story strive for?

What techniques, either of plot or of language, does the author use to create or heighten the suspense?

9. PACE

Does the story move quickly or at a leisurely rate? Does the pace vary from scene to scene, according to what the scene is about?

10. HUMOR

How much humor is blended into the story? What kind of humor is it?

11. EMOTIONAL COLOR

Does the author bring a lot of emotion into the prose, or does he present "just the facts"?

12. REGIONALISM, CULTURAL FLAVOR

To what extent does the author incorporate the speech patterns, expressions, attitudes, and beliefs of a particular region or culture into the narrative?

13. IMAGERY, METAPHOR, AND SIMILE

How much or how little does the author use images, metaphors, and similes to create an impression or an effect?

Is there a particular arena from which these images tend to be drawn (e.g., nature, food, wars and battles)?

14. SYMBOLS

How much or how little does the author use symbols to highlight a theme or create an effect?

How obvious or subtle is the symbolism?

15. ALLUSIONS AND REFERENCES

What kinds of allusions or references does the author make or have the characters make? Famous poems? Bible stories or classical myths? Renaissance paintings, Impressionism, modern art? Classical music, jazz, rap, rock? Sports? Brand names of products? The military? Politics? TV or film?

To what extent does the author use such illusions or references?

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