A Lesson on Narration Styles and Adverbs
By guest contributor Macy Cochran
Hello writers, new and experienced alike! There’s never been such a thing as over-studying, so allow us here at IngramElliott to offer our best lesson on narration styles and adverbs in dialogue tags, a couple of the most important aspects to consider while drafting.
Point of View
The point of view (POV) of your book sets the initial tone for readers whether we’re aware of it or not. While first person narrative gives the story a tighter grip on the main character, third person offers a more story-telling tone. But let’s dig deeper…
First person narrative is used often in thrillers and young adult novels so readers can feel a deeper connection with the main character (MC). This style of POV reads as though the MC is speaking his thoughts, though it can be written in present tense or past tense. I’ll share an example from John Green’s young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars, “I woke up in the ICU. I could tell I was in ICU because I didn’t have my own room…”
Notice how that quote is written as if coming straight from the mind of the MC and being told as though it happened in the past by using past tense verbs. This narration style is used frequently when authors strive for their audiences to experience a more intense relationship with the book and the characters within, and past tense is included to give a more nostalgic tone. Here’s an example of first person, present tense in Gayle Forman’s If I Stay: “I can feel them praying. Which also makes me think I’m dead…And I’m not crying either, even though I know that something unthinkable has happened to my family.” This tense is used by authors who want to convey a story that’s more action-packed with an in-the-moment feel.
Third person narrative is a regularly used POV, especially in literary fiction, using pronouns like “he,” “she,” and “they,” opposite of first person’s pronouns like “I,” “myself,” “me,” etc. However, there are two types of third person POV––omniscient and the more common past tense. Third person omniscient is rather flexible for writers in that this POV is all-knowing of numerous characters in the story, following more than just one character. This omniscient style allows readers to be aware of what is happening in each of the character’s lives, permitting the author to “head-hop” from one person to the other.
Editors note: Take care when hopping from one character to another while using omniscient point of view--if not crafted with much care, this approach may confuse readers.
Third person past tense follows only one character, similarly to first person, though the story is told from the author’s point of view, saying things like, “He walked to the store,” or “She helped the man up, and then she pushed him back in his chair.” Most genres in commercial fiction such as thrillers or young adult pieces are written in first person narrative. Literary fiction is most often seen in third person. Some examples of this are Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, and The Scarlet Letter.
Overall, each of these POVs is fun to work with, so before you take on your first draft, do a little research and find which narration style works best for you!
Now for the Adverbs
Watch out, avid writers, because we’ve all come across adverbs in dialogue tags like this one: “‘I love you,’ she said sweetly.” Now let’s try, “‘I love you.’ She touched his cheek and rubbed the tip of her nose on his.” Notice how readers can interpret that the dialogue was said sweetly due to the actions that followed.
Editors often warn against adverbs in dialogue tags because adverbs are known to tell action instead of show it. But how come we see adverbs so much in bestselling novels? Many times, authors with a high platform can get away with including these risky techniques in their writing because publishers want the authors’ exposure.
But the cornerstone to good writing is using exciting verbs that help the reader see the action rather than taking the easy way out by using adverbs. The best way around adverbs is to step back, imagine what action you’re trying to convey, and search out your best verb for that description.
So once you’ve nailed your POV and started writing, choose your words carefully! They just might land you on the bestseller list…
Macy Cochran is a freelance editor and writer for the Tryon Daily Bulletin. Learn more about how to work with Macy on her website at ElegantEditingServices.com or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.