National Storytelling Week: The Narrator
02 Feb 2022
It’s common to discuss your favourite author. But what if I asked you for your favourite narrator?
For me, Terry Pratchett has to be in the running. You learn fantastic details about the Discworld, which floats through space on the back of a giant turtle, from his omniscient – and very funny – narrator.
Somehow this voice keeps you onside and up to date even when you’re navigating a universe that plays host to characters from Corporal Nobby Nobbs to Death himself.
A big part of the charm is the footnotes, little (or sometimes large) asides throughout the text. It’s like the narrator can’t keep a hilarious or profound observation to themself – but they don’t want to talk over the story.*
You feel like someone is speaking in your ear while you’re at the opera and daring you to giggle. And that makes the story all the richer, and all the funnier.
Reader, I married him
Omniscient narrators are one thing, but what about the characters that tell their own stories?
These narrators can be the hero, the victim or, as in the case of the unreliable narrator, the villain. And how they talk to you tells you a lot.
Jane Eyre is an incredible protagonist, and hearing the twists and turns of her life in her own words makes it all the more moving – and shocking.
She is earnest, direct and strong, and does more with four words than I can do with 400. I still want to punch the air every time I see, “Reader, I married him.”
For each story, a narrator
Narrators might be silent, or in your face – but either way, they define every piece of content.
But what does this have to do with B2B writing?
Sadly, I’ve yet to write a blog that opens, “Grab another drink, good sir, and sit by the fire. Let me tell ye a tale of ransomware that’ll make thy blood freeze…”
We might talk about personas, rather than narrators, in the business world. But nonetheless, this persona is just as central to writing web copy as spinning a good yarn.
Because you’re always speaking with a voice, even if it’s the voice of a company, rather than the voice of an individual. And getting that voice wrong is often the issue when content “just doesn’t sound right.”
So, for every piece of content, think about your narrator. Whether it’s an individual or a company, what are their characteristics – and how can you bring them to life on a page?
It’s worth some thought. Because whatever you’re writing, the narrator can make or break your story.
*There are too many incredible footnotes to do them justice with one extract, but Mort has a much-loved example.**
** The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles – kingons, or possibly queons – that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.