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The Parlor Trick | Rediscovering My Narrative Voice


Narration is something I have almost always struggled with. Up until fairly recently, my stories were stiff. Stodgy. Hard to engage with and, therefore, hard to connect with.


I figure it started around third grade, when state-mandated writing exams shifted from writing a short story based on a prompt to persuasive essays. Even though they tasked us with taking a side regarding a statement, we were told to "take ourselves out it."


Although it has become a popular phrase on social media nowadays, "In this essay I will..." would have actually resulted in point deductions. Same for "I think" or "I feel." Basically any reference to you as the author apart from your name in the corner of the paper was not permitted. We were not supposed to have a presence in our writing.


Fast-forward to high school, where the rubrics became even stricter and fiction assignments were few and far between. There was an expectation of formality, even when writing about works of fiction. It was all about presenting the facts and, occasionally, doing so in a way that more closely aligned with the instructor's views than your own.


Once again, the need to remove yourself from your writing arose.


College was the first chance I had to take any writing-centric classes. I learned quite a bit in these courses, but there were multiple occasions in which the need to write the "right" way took priority.


There is one particular instance that comes to mind. I was in a one-on-one meeting with the professor to review something I had written for class, and the conversation had turned to the narration. Although they told me my dialogue was good and overall the story worked, there were things in the narration that didn't work for them.


Primarily, word choice. Specifically, some of the words I had used ranging from period slang common in the historical setting to those I simply love to see on the page.


This instructor referred to it as "authorly intrusions," meaning that my voice was too present.


I made the changes recommended, solidifying the feeling that as a writer, I needed separate myself from the narration. That I had to remain formal.


Stodgy. Stiff.


This continued for some time. Years. If you were to go way back in the archives of the blog, you'd find this rigidness in my earliest posts. My fiction suffered the same fate, with the narration being exceedingly bland and lifeless.


It lacked personality. It lacked me.


My sense of self in my writing was absent in trying to make it closer to what those around me told me it should be. It wasn't so much that I had lost my narrative voice, but that I had never been able to define it for myself.


I know I am a writer. But I don't necessarily know who I am as a writer.


It wasn't until a few months ago that I started to break away from what I had been taught and loosen up.


So what happened, exactly?


I started thinking of myself not as a writer, but as a storyteller.


It sounds minor, but this shift proved to be a game-changer when it came to my narration.


When we think of storytellers, an image that might come to mind is a group sitting around a campfire. One person shares a tale captivating their audience. It's a performance, in a way. Dramatic pauses. Hand gestures. Flashlights held up to cast shadows on the storyteller's face. All these little nuances that add to the experience.

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The storyteller's personality enriches the tale they weave, and you become caught up in it. Even if it's a retelling of a known legend, it's unique to that moment because the person telling the story is now part of it. Something of a character, so to speak.


It's far more engaging.


Many writers embark on this journey because they love telling stories. And for me, it's finally my turn to become the storyteller.


As I've been settling into rewriting Bound to the Heart, I have been envisioning myself telling the story to an audience—though not around a campfire.


This is where The Parlor Trick comes in.


Instead of being out in the woods, I imagine myself sitting in a parlor more fitting for my stories' Regency Era setting, telling this story to a group of about a half-dozen ladies and gentlemen on a winter's night.

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Since taking on the role of a storyteller rather than a writer, I've noticed significant improvements in my writing.


The biggest reason? I'm letting my own voice shine through.


I have a presence in my writing again. Although I write in third-person, meaning the narrator is not a character in the story, I have let this narrator be something of a similar nature, as though the narration were dialogue.


A story being told to the reader.

I'm letting myself break rules. Using fragmented sentences and ones that begin with "But" or "And." Sprinkling in the occasional adverb. Italics for emphasis. My favorite words surfacing again. Unabashed use of oxford commas and em-dashes.


And of course, generous heaps of sass, snark, and sarcasm.


Informality feels more genuine. Letting go of expectations from the past has not been easy, but it has been rewarding.




Treating the narrator as a character telling the story to the reader has helped me discover my voice at last. Embedding those traces of my personality has given so much life to my WIP. It's not cut down and restricted to appease others. Rather, it's authentically me.


This rewrite feels like a first draft in some respects, most of all because it's the first I've allowed myself to truly be part of.


Terry Pratchett once said, "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story."


And this time around, I'm telling the story as myself.


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