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Voice in Literature: Authorial v/s Character v/s Narratorial Voice

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Before we dive into the Voices in Literature, let me ask you something. Forget the jargon Authorial voice, Character’s voice, Narrative voice, and bla bla, for a second. When you read a novel, do you ever wonder who is writing your story? As in – Imagine we are fictional characters, and our author has something bizarre planned for us! How exciting and exotic to be a character! But then who’s narrating our stories? Is it the almighty, omnipresent Author himself? Or an interesting but not-so-important side character? If we are lucky, it could be ourselves (like in most teen movies or anime). 

On the other hand, does it make any difference whose voice we are using to tell our stories – the author, the character, or the narrator? Wait, what is a voice really?

Voice is not just the sound of any person. In literature, voice consists of the special characteristics attributed to the author, narrator, or character. It involves how they think or write and express themselves and what they want to convey through their work. Voice is the distinctive feature of an author (in general) that sets them apart from others. 

Author’s VoiceCharacter’s VoiceNarrator’s Voice
the way an author writes their work such as the writing styles and techniques, grammar tricks, syntactical and pragmatical structures, vocabulary, etc.character’s thoughts, emotions, feelings, and perspectives, giving them a unique personalitythoughts, perspectives, and opinions of the narrator
Usually,  a single authormultiple characters, multiple character voicessingle narrator or multiple narrators. 
could be intentional or unintentional.Characters’ voices are always intentional.Narrators’ voices are generally intentional.
identify it by –writing style-grammar and vocabulary-recurrent thoughts and opinions underlying symbols and metaphors, etc.identify it by -motives and actions. –dialogues.depends on which lens the narrator chooses 

It is visible in their deliberate grammatical writing patterns, the underlying tone for their work, actions and reactions (if it’s a character), and so on. I realize the definition doesn’t really clear up the confusion, so we can do this section in detail with a few examples below. 

Now, we come across three kinds of voice in our texts – the author’s voice, the narrator’s voice, and the character’s voice. Sometimes they could all belong to one person. And sometimes, there are multiple voices whence it gets difficult to differentiate.

If you are a booknerd like me, you could read just a few lines and realize it’s your favorite author. Or you could hear a few dialogues from a TV show and know which character would say something like that! 

(We all know Michael Scott from The Office would always say something offensive or insensible gibberish!)

The voice is what creates an image of a character in our head. Voice gives them an opinion (Heard of the common protest? – “I have a voice.”), a personality. And yet when it comes to novels with multiple characters, identifying whose voice we are listening to can get a little complicated. The author could be or not be the narrator, the narrator could be a character, or perhaps not! 

Ugghh! My college days were messy in finding these hidden, not-so-evident voices. That’s why in this article, we will not only understand voice but also learn to differentiate between different kinds of voices in literature.

What is Voice in Literature?

Voice is the way a person is. Their personality, opinions, characteristics, way of thinking, lifestyle choices, everything is a part of their voice. Through one’s voice, we can understand the emotions/perspectives behind the story they tell. 

In Literature, we can identify someone’s worldview or opinions through their style of writing, use of grammatical devices, poetic and literary devices, vocabulary, narration techniques, and so on. Every aspect of writing can reveal a lot about the author’s intentions if read carefully.

Examples of Voice

it’s unlikely that a decent poem is in me


and I understand that this is strictly my


and of no interest to you

that I sit here listening to a man playing

a piano on the radio

and it’s bad piano, both the playing and

the composition

and again, this is of no interest to you

as one of my cats,

a beautiful white with strange markings,

sleeps in the bathroom.

I have no idea of what would be of interest to you

but I doubt that you would be of

interest to me, so don’t get


in fact, come to think of it, you can

kiss my ass.

I continue to listen to the piano

this will not be a memorable night in my

life or yours.

let us celebrate the stupidity of our


A Not so Good Night in the San Pedro of the World,

Charles Bukowski

(Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=38732)

If you have read Bukowski, you know how he writes – his tone, no-care attitude, and brute honesty. 

Observe the poem’s structure above – it’s broken, irregular, and chaotic. The words are plain and unfanciful. The evident tone of disinterest and boredom is present. And above all, the rude and sharp honesty. This is Bukowski’s voice. No matter which poem you pick up, you will find the same or similar characteristics in all of them. He has a distinct voice that expresses his worldview and opinions. He declares that opinion through the stanzaic structure, word use, grammar, poetic devices, and more. 

A more relatable example could be our own. Let’s go back to our imaginary fictional life. What you think, feel, act, react, and relate to is all a part of your voice.

Your saying –  “Yeah, okay, cool.” is very different from when you say, “Yeah, whatever.” 

The first sentence is of agreement, a no-problem scenario. 

The second one suggests disinterest, a forceful obligation perhaps. The reader reads these tiny cues everywhere in the novel and understands your personality and behavior.

Similarly, every author, narrator, and character has a unique personality that they showcase through their voice.

Now that we get a basic idea of what voice is, let’s try to understand what it means to be an author, a narrator, a character, or all.

(Note: To keep things easy, I will explain the terms only concerning written literature.)

What is an Author?

The author writes or creates the work. It is originally the author’s idea to come up with a story and write a novel about it. It is the author’s name we see on the cover of the book along with its title.

What is a Narrator?

The narrator is the storyteller. They tell the story from their perspective. To narrate is to tell. The author can be the narrator themselves or choose an omnipresent narrator who is not a character in the story but acts on behalf of the author to tell the story. This way, the author can hide their real identity and mask it behind the narrator. What we hear are not then the author’s views and perspectives but the narrator’s. In short, the narrator offers a “lens” or different lenses to the story. There can be multiple narrators, thus multiple lenses.

(Remember that the author’s ideologies will seep into the story. But that is not what the author directly intends to do.)

What is the difference between an author, a narrator, and a character?

Let’s try to understand this with an example. 

I wrote a story. I used “M” to be my narrator. This “M” is the protagonist’s friend, making M a character. So although I am controlling the story as the writer, I don’t show the events happening from my perspective but from M’s perspective. M sees things and reports to the reader. Because M is a character, M has many feelings of their own. Now and then M may express their feelings too.

In another scenario, another story – I use M to be my narrator. This time, I don’t make M a character. It is like I use M as a second identity for myself to tell the story. If I am a female and I want to tell the story from a male perspective, I would make M a male narrator and tell the story through a male lens. That doesn’t make M a character in the story. He is still outside the story, omnipresent possibly. Nonetheless, M lies somewhere between being the author’s true personality and being the storyteller for a particular work.

Why does the author need to create a separate narrator?

Well, when we read a work, we directly relate it to the author. We assume it is the author’s thinking or worldly perspective. But the author may want to detach themselves from the story. So they will create an entity, a persona on their behalf to tell the story from a different perspective. Obviously, it will be influenced by what the author thinks, yet at the same time, a detached narrator will open up new possibilities for the reader as well as the author to incorporate multiple perspectives. The storytelling is not limited/restricted to the author but can go beyond them.

(It’s a little off-topic, but an interesting suggestion is to read Roland Barthes’ “The Death of an Author”)

Can authors and narrators be characters?

Yes. As we saw above, narrators can definitely be characters in a story. If the author decides to tell their own story through first-person narration (using “I”), then the author can become a character too.

In summing up, we can say –

  • Authors are the creators of stories.
  • Narrators are storytellers.
  • Authors can choose to be the narrator of their stories, or use another identity as a narrator outside the story.
  • Authors and narrators both can be characters of a story, or not.
  • There is only one author, but there can be multiple narrators and multiple characters.
  • Sometimes, the author, the narrator, and the character are the same person. 
  • Sometimes, the author does not influence the text. The story is entirely driven by the narrator/s and characters of the story.

What is Authorial Voice?

  • Meaning & Explanation

The author’s voice or authorial voice is the way an author writes their work. The writing styles and techniques, grammar tricks, syntactical and pragmatical structures, vocabulary, etc. make up the tone of a work. The author either writes to express their thoughts or to convey a message. This is done through their voice. 

For example, if you have read the beloved writer – Khaled Hosseini’s works, he tries to write about the suffering of the Afghanistani people under the Taliban regime. You can even find him campaigning for the same problems that are showcased in his novels. Thus, he uses his voice to call out attention to the suffering Afghans. 

Another example from popular fiction is the works of Sidney Sheldon and Dan Brown. Both writers write in specific genres and the more you read their books, the more you can predict their stories and endings. 

Murakami has been a popular favorite. You will find a confessional quality in his works, a sense of mystery and alienation. You identify Murakami without his covers or titles but by his lines and narration.

  •  Example

“A week had elapsed since the rendezvous of our two friends on the green bench in the park, when, one fine morning at about half-past ten o’clock, Varvara Ardalionovna, otherwise Mrs. Ptitsin, who had been out to visit a friend, returned home in a state of considerable mental depression.There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief—in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as “commonplace people,” and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself.“Podkoleosin” [A character in Gogol’s comedy, The Wedding.] was perhaps an exaggeration, but he was by no means a non-existent character; on the contrary, how many intelligent people, after hearing of this Podkoleosin from Gogol, immediately began to find that scores of their friends were exactly like him! They knew, perhaps, before Gogol told them, that their friends were like Podkoleosin, but they did not know what name to give them. In real life, young fellows seldom jump out of the window just before their weddings, because such a feat, not to speak of its other aspects, must be a decidedly unpleasant mode of escape; and yet there are plenty of bridegrooms, intelligent fellows too, who would be ready to confess themselves Podkoleosins in the depths of their consciousness, just before marriage.”

  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

This is a section from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot where he continues to narrate the stories of his characters. Sometimes, Dostoyevsky (in his other works too), directly talks to the reader and goes on to explain the state of his characters. It becomes evident that in such sections, he doesn’t just stay an omniscient narrator throughout the story, but acknowledges his presence as an author to the reader. This is clearly his authorial voice.

What is Character’s Voice?

  • Meaning & Explanation

When a character presents their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and perspectives, it is known as the character’s voice. The character’s voice gives them a personality distinctive from others. 

For example, Hermoine in Harry Potter is smart, witty, and intelligent, but at the same time, she is sensitive and emotional, and despite all odds, falls in love with her best friend – Ron. She is not a stock or predictable character. She has her voice and stands up against what she finds wrong. She is an independent and highly reliable character, but most importantly, she turns out to be the best friend Harry needs. 

Although she is not the narrator of the entire saga, her dialogues, actions, reactions, and intentions create her image for us.

  •  Example

“You have never loved me. You have only thought it pleasant to be in love with me. It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you – I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as your else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which –I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman – just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.”

  • Nora From Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House

The above example is Nora’s final realization in Ibsen’s famous problem play called A Doll’s House. Nora realizes she has just been a doll for her husband and had been the same for her father. Her monologue justifies her stance and experiences. Through this monologue, we understand her voice, her feelings, her place in the story, and her world.

What is Narratorial Voice?

  • Meaning & Explanation

The narratorial voice refers to the thoughts, perspectives, and opinions of the narrator. This storyteller could be the author itself or a character in the story. Sometimes, the narrator is a complete outsider to the story which makes them an omniscient narrator. The voice that the narrator depicts depends upon the stance they take. 

Because there are different kinds of narration techniques (omniscient, first-person, unreliable, etc.), the voice too exists in varied forms.

A famous example is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which depicts the first-person narrator Nick Caraway’s interactions with the millionaire Jay Gatsby. Here, we not only get an insight into Jay’s story but also realize what kind of character Nick is through his narrations. His quiet observations and reflections make him a worthy narrator for the audience. He is able to tell the story from close quarters and yet from a neutral and objective perspective. When we read The Great Gatsby, we know we are listening to Nick Caraway and not Fitzgerald.

  • Types of Narrators

(A short recap of our knowledge about types of narrators will help us stay clear in the examples ahead.)

First-person Narrator (Character)– A character narrates the story using “I”.
– The narration may be influenced by their feelings and experiences, thus the reader may see only one point of view.
First-person Narrator (Author + Character)– The author is a character, thus telling their own stories.
– The reader will have a full picture of the story because the author knows everything, and so does our narrator.
Second-person Narrator– The author uses “you” and directly addresses the reader.
– This makes the reader go through a simulation, i.e., the reader imagines themselves in the said scenario and reacts to the story according to their experiences.
– This kind of narration is unusual.
Third-person Narrator (Omniscient)– The narrator is omniscient, i.e., present everywhere and knows everything, thus a reliable narrator as well.
– A very common style of narration. The author may or may not mask their identity behind the narrator.
– In some cases, could be an all-knowing character narrating the events of the past.
Third-person Narrator (Non-omniscient)– Although the narration is in third-person, the narrator could be non-omniscient. It happens when the author wants to mask themselves behind the narrator. Thus, the narrator may have limited knowledge of the story.
– Another possibility is the narrator is a side character in the story, but their point of view is objective and neutral, thus a suitable choice. Because the narrator is a character, they will not know the story in advance but narrate it as events go by.
– The narrator could also be outside the story, meaning not a character.
Reliable Narrator– The narrator is called reliable because we can believe the events they are narrating.
Unreliable Narrator– A narrator is said to be unreliable when they are influenced by internal or external factors which will hinder their ability to tell stories accurately. For example, a mental disorder of a character who happens to be the narrator, or in detective novels, if the criminal is the narrator, then he/she may lead the reader to the wrong conclusions.

  •  Example

“I SAID I’d pack. I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of those many things that I feel I know more about than any other person living. (It surprises me myself, sometimes, how many such things there are.) I impressed the fact upon George and Harris and told them that they had better leave the whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the suggestion with a readiness that had something uncanny about it. George spread himself over the easy-chair, and Harris cocked his legs on the table. 2. This was hardly what I intended. What I had meant, of course, was, that I should boss the job, and that Harris and George should potter about under my directions, I pushing them aside every now and then with, “Oh, you!” “Here, let me do it.” “There you are, simple enough!” — really teaching them, as you might say. Their taking it in the way they did irritated me. There is nothing does irritate me more than seeing other people sitting about doing nothing when I’m working. 3. I lived with a man once who used to make me mad that way. He would loll on the sofa and watch me doing things by the hour together. He said it did him real good to look on at me, messing about. Now, I’m not like that. I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it. 4. However, I did not say anything, but started the packing. It seemed a longer job than I had thought it was going to be; but I got the bag finished at last, and I sat on it and strapped it. “Ain’t you going to put the boots in?” said Harris. And I looked round, and found I had forgotten them. That’s just like Harris. He couldn’t have said a word until I’d got the bag shut and strapped, of course. And George laughed — one of those irritating, senseless laughs of his. They do make me so wild.”

  • Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

One of the most amusing narrations I have come across is Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. Here, Mr. Jerome is not only the author but also a character in the episodes he narrates, as well as our entertaining narrator. He uses first-person narration and his tales make us believe that these are his stories and experiences. Although it could all be imaginary of course, he is not hiding behind his narrator and lets the reader experience him as an author + narrator. 

What is the difference between authorial voice, character’s voice, and narratorial voice?

Difference between the author’s voice, character’s voice, and narrator’s voice:

(Note that the differences are easier to understand practically than theoretically. Also, because all of the voices could belong to the same person, there may be evident similarities.)

Author’s VoiceCharacter’s VoiceNarrator’s Voice
The author’s voice or authorial voice is the way an author writes their work. The writing styles and techniques, grammar tricks, syntactical and pragmatical structures, vocabulary, etc. make up the tone of a work.When a character presents their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and perspectives, it is known as the character’s voice. The character’s voice gives them a personality distinctive from others. The narratorial voice refers to the thoughts, perspectives, and opinions of the narrator. This storyteller could be the author itself or a character in the story.
Usually, there is a single author, so we have only one author’s voice for one work.Because we have multiple characters in a story, we can have multiple character voices too.There could be a single narrator or multiple narrators. 
The author’s voice could be intentional or unintentional.Characters’ voices are always intentional.Narrators’ voices are generally intentional.
You can recognize it by the writing style of the author, their grammar and vocabulary usage, their recurrent thoughts and opinions throughout their other works, underlying symbols and metaphors, and so on.You can identify a character’s voice by understanding their motives and actions. Usually, it is easy to understand a character’s voice through their dialogues.The narrator could be inside the story or outside, so their voice depends on which lens they choose to narrate the story.

List of works to understand Voice in Literature –

(This tentative and very small list is my personal recommendation and was not given by some experts or scholars. I enjoyed the narrative techniques they used in their works.

One name that scholars usually suggest is Ernest Hemingway. If you are into the stream-of-consciousness technique, go for James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. For monologues, who is better than Shakespeare? 

It is my experience that when you read a variety of writers, you automatically start understanding the voice and the underlying themes.)

The RoomNovelEmma Donoghue
The Book ThiefNovelMarkus Zusak
Midnight’s Children Novel Salman Rushdie
Sophie’s WorldNovel Jostein Gaarder
The Catcher in the RyeNovelJ. D. Salinger
1984 Novel George Orwell
Catch-22NovelJoseph Heller
The God of Small ThingsNovelArundhati Roy
The Silent PatientNovel Alex Michaelides

Read Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Murakami, Woolf, etc. 

Test Yourself: 

“True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it — oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly — very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! — would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously — oh, so cautiously — cautiously (for the hinges creaked) — I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights — every night just at midnight — but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.”

(Source of the text)

  1. Identify whose voice is used in the text above.

(The author, narrator, character, or all?)

  1. Can you recognize the author of the text?

(Is the writing similar to any author you have read?)

  1. What is unusual about the narration technique here?

(Think about whom the narrator is addressing and why?)

  1. In which category will you place the narrator?

(Reliable? Omniscient? etc.)

  1. Can you draw distinct lines between the author and the narrator here?
  1. What kind of writing style/techniques has the author used to create a specific voice for the text?

(grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc.)

  1. How would you describe the narrator and their voice from the above text in your own words?

(the state of mind and personality of the narrator)

Test Yourself – Answers:

(Note that these are not detailed and critically analyzed answers. They will act just as a head-start for you to understand the very basic recognition of voice.)

  1. Identify whose voice is used in the text above.

(The author, narrator, character, or all?)

Answer: The character, who is also the narrator. (It is not the author’s voice directly. We can understand this because the character seems to be hysteric, a little insane.)

  1. Can you recognize the author of the text?

(Is the writing similar to any author you have read?)

Answer: It is Edgar Allan Poe. (He usually writes such kinds of stories.)

  1. What is unusual about the narration technique here?

(Think about whom the narrator is addressing and why?)

Answer: The narrator (i.e., the character) is directly addressing the reader. “You fancy me mad.” The character is trying to justify his innocence or his sanity to the reader. Also, we can’t be sure it’s a “he” but the character refers to itself as a “madman”. Such unique, “you-centric” narrations pull the readers into the story.

  1. In which category will you place the narrator?

(Reliable? Omniscient? etc.)

Answer: Unreliable narrator. Not because it’s the first-person narration by a character, but because the character doesn’t seem to be in a stable state of mind. He/she is also biased about his/her side of the story.

  1. Can you draw distinct lines between the author and the narrator here?

Answer: Yes, we can. Because the narrator is clearly a killer and kind of unstable. It is obvious that the author is not (a killer) this character, thus not the narrator. The author has just used the character as his narrator.

  1. What kind of writing style/techniques has the author used to create a specific voice for the text?

(grammar, syntax, punctuation, etc.)

Answer: Look at the confusing overuse of punctuation, especially the dash. The inverted syntax. The dangling sentences, and repetition of certain words. Sudden exclamations. An interrogative remark here and there. The metaphors. The introduction and mention of heaven and hell. The eccentric vocabulary. Incomplete sentences and the overuse of “I” but not in the beginnings of sentences. A lot of conjunctions to show long sentences and continuity, the desperation to tell the tale quickly. And so on.

  1. How would you describe the narrator and their voice from the above text in your own words?

(the state of mind and personality of the narrator)

Answer: I would leave the detailed answer for you to try because this is more of a personal opinion question. But I would like to give you some hints such as – the narrator is definitely unstable, but very confident about their act and its story. The narrator wants to justify their sanity; surprisingly they don’t consider the killing insane even when it is without a strong motive. Rather the narrator goes on to explain the precise planning and the delicate execution. The narrator is pretty proud of their perfect crime. At the same time, the narrator is quite paradoxical for all the pride and glory go to vain as the reader considers them insane.


So voice consists of the overall personality, opinions, thoughts, emotions, and attributes of a person in terms of literature. The authorial voice denotes the author’s distinctive writing style and opinions. The character’s voice shows the character’s features. And the narratorial voice gives an insight into the narrator’s mind while telling the story. Voice helps the audience in understanding the story and its characters from a more relatable and humane perspective. With different voices such as feminist or marginalized, authoritative or liberal, etc., readers can see the world through various lenses and perhaps become more empathetic humans.

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Jui Shirvalkar-Chandurkar

Founder, A Good Library

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