Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Choose the Right Narrator

I've been stuck on my novel VOODOO QUEEN for longer than I care to admit. Now, I am officially unstuck. Light the fireworks and open the sparkling cider, this is a cause for celebration!

My biggest challenge was finding the right narrator. It seemed like there were a million options and none of them fit just right.

Donald Maas says in his brilliant book Writing the Breakout Novel that the narrator should be the person who changes the most. Orson Scott Card says it should be the person who hurts the most. Problem is, all my characters do a lot of changing and hurting, so their advice isn't really helpful for me personally.

A friend of mine said I should flip a coin. By that time I was so fed up with my dilemma that I decided leaving it to chance was the only option.

I got a hat and wrote the options on pieces of paper. Right as I was about to pick one out, I looked through my notes one last time to see if I could glean any last-minute inspiration. I happened upon the Conflict/Tension section. 

This is what I read:

Main Conflict: Can Marie make a difference for good?
-          Mini-goals: help others
o   physically, emotionally, and spiritually
-          This entails:
o   Raising children
o   Caring for the sick
o   Bringing people to the Catholic Church
o   Being a voodoo leader/practitioner
o   Giving advice
-          Her children keep dying
-          She loses confidence because of her lost children and failed marriage
-          Racial and religious persecution (laws, treatment)
-          People fear and hate her
-          Her own mortality (needs to leave a queen in her place)
-          She’s fighting against death itself and doesn’t always win
-          Charlatans are hurting people with their false claims.

Public Stakes: Depict New Orleans African American culture at its most beautiful and ask, can Marie save all of this?

Notice anything interesting? All the conflict revolves around one person. Every other character has struggles, but they'll all subplots, and the conflict in those subplots all affect my main character: Marie Laveau.

It didn't make any sense for the narrator to be one of Marie's daughters, or her grandmother, or even for her to share the spotlight with any of those people. VOODOO QUEEN is her story, and no one else ought to tell it.

When Maass says the narrator should change the most and Card says the narrator should hurt the most, they're both saying the same thing in different ways; the action should revolve around your main character. He/she should be in the center or not just the story, but the purpose of the story. 

In the end, I chose my narrator by asking myself two questions:

  1. What is this story trying to accomplish?
  2. Which character can best accomplish this?
I had wanted to do something unprecedented with my book, but in the end, that wasn't the best way to tell it. Plain old third-person single POV will be the best thing for my story, and that's what I'm going to do.


  1. A very helpful analysis. Many thanks

  2. Glad you finally broke through. Good luck with the writing.

    P.S. I love the title Voodoo Queen

  3. I'm smashing the cider open with a scimitar for you--on multiple counts! Hello Teralyn, I've been pretty absent from following blogs since I took a writing break when I got pregnant with my daughter a few years ago. I have taken up my manuscript again and kept blogging a little, and I was just thinking about your Vestal Virgin story and decided to check in. I see you not only finished that book, you've started this super amazing sounding Voodoo Queen story and had a little girl of your own! That's so wonderful. I'll be actively following your blog again. I'm totally rooting for the completion and publication of both of your books so I can read them. The premises are right up my alley, and I love your writing style. *sprinkles virtual unicorn sparkles*


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