Our Reading Lives

What Does Your Inner Narrator Sound and Look Like?

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Gia R.

Staff Writer

Gia R. is from Phoenix, Arizona. She graduated with two business degrees. While studying, her short nonfiction story was published in 2018 in Write On, Downtown, an ASU journal. Since then, she taught preschool students abroad. Now back in AZ, you’ll find her writing, reading, and adoring digital art.

We all read for a variety of reasons. Some read to feel a certain emotion or to understand something from a different point of view. For others, reading can be a source of inspiration for creative endeavors, hobbies, or life goals. It could be all of these or none of these, but have you ever thought about what happens when you read? What do you hear and see? While reading dialogue, do you hear yourself reading it or do you hear distinct voices for each character? Do the words on the page take you on a visual journey? Do you see the action unfold in your head?

Well, it turns out I’m not the only one who wants to know! A recent post on Reddit asked these questions and got more than a few answers. Based on the responses, my own reading experience, and some feedback from friends, I’ve compiled a list of the different types of inner narrators.

When we read, there are many factors at play. Some people see the words on the page and read it in their own voice. Some narrators are distinct while others are barely there. Others hear different characters in a scene play out. Haven’t given it much thought? Well, now is your chance. Read on to find out these eight types of inner narrators.

Different Inner Narrator Types

1. The Word Nerd

We have to start with the reader that is wholly focused on the words on the page. That means they don’t hear the different character’s voices or their own. They also don’t imagine scenes or characters based on the descriptions. Voices? Images? Vivid scenes amidst a fantastical landscape? They’re not familiar with any of these things while reading. The Word Nerd doesn’t hear the words ring through their head in their own voice or anyone’s voice. They live and read by the words and the words alone.

People who lack a strong narrator voice while reading can often fall under this type. Additionally, people without an internal monologue may also identify with The Word Nerd. What is an inner monologue? Well, an inner monologue is basically an inner dialogue or conversation you have with yourself. For some, this may be actually talking out loud to yourself when planning something or reflecting on your day in your head.

Not sure if you’re The Word Nerd? Read this silently:

“He’s right. I am doing this to myself. I’m holding myself back. I’ve spent years living safely to secure a longer life, and look where that’s got me. I’m at the finish line, but I never ran the race.”

Silvera, Adam. The Both Die at the End. HarperCollins Publishers, 2017, p.136.

Did you hear your voice or someone else’s? Did you hear anything at all?

2. The Neutral Voice

Okay, so maybe you do hear a voice, but it doesn’t sound like you. It’s not distinct, but it’s still there. Some people have a neutral inner voice. It doesn’t have many definable features. For some, it’s neither masculine or feminine. It isn’t deep or high. If you have a neutral inner narrator, then you probably don’t hear different voices for characters in a novel. Additionally, this voice remains consistent throughout a variety of scenes, without inflections or any emphasis on certain words. A line from an intense breakup scene sounds the same as one admiring a magnificent sunset. You may find some similarities between this type and the first type, but this one has a soft, neutral narrator.

3. The Main Character

I picked this name because this inner narrator gives off some serious main character energy. Unlike the last two types, you may have a strong inner narrator. You read everything exactly as you’d say it or imagine it playing out. When you read a vivid description of a landscape, it’s your voice. As you read a lovely confession between two characters, congrats, you are both parties confessing to each other! When you read dialogue, you read it in your own voice with your own inflections and tone. Unlike The Word Nerd, The Main Character most likely has an inner monologue too.

Those with a strong inner narrator voice may also imagine scenes, but it’s not the focus. What takes precedence is your own voice. When it comes to characters, you rely on the physical descriptions and personality, not the voice, to differentiate them. Since you read everything in your voice, you may also find it easy to connect with the main characters and empathize with them.

Not sure if this is you? Well, if you have a strong narrator voice, audiobooks may be a toss up for you. You may love an audiobook or you may have to hit the mute button. This type can find it difficult to listen to someone else narrate a book, whether it is well done or not. This could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe you don’t like the inflections or the tone. You might not like how they modified their voice to portray a certain character. Either way, if this is you, you may have a hard time getting into the story because of the narrator.

4. The Author’s Sidekick

This type of inner narrator has a strong narrator voice that reads everything according to the writing. This means that the narrator follows the inflections, tone, and emotion written by the author. They may change their voice according to character if it’s specified by the author. What a nice skill to have! The Author’s Sidekick could also imagine certain characters and scenes that the author describes. The key here is that this type follows the author’s every move until the end of the book. Their own inner narrator may be strong at times, but they adjust and change with the author’s writing. Readers with this type of narrator would most likely love books written by authors who focus on vivid descriptions of characters and intense dialogue!

5. The Voice Actor

First of all, if you’re this type of narrator, just know that I am super jealous. The Voice Actor is an inner narrator that changes their voice to match different characters. This could be done by assigning voices when the reader starts the book or as they read it, evolving their inner voice to match the essential characters. This type may select voices based on descriptions provided in the reading or on actors, celebrities, and their own friends. The Voice Actor is more active when reading books that are heavy on dialogue. You might be this type of narrator, but not even know it if you haven’t read books with several distinct characters like Howl’s Moving Castle.

To be fair, many people can adopt this type of inner narrator in specific circumstances. Have you ever had a strong understanding of a character from the beginning? Maybe you read intense dialogue and imagined an actor or a bubbly acquaintance of yours saying those words.

Of course, no discussion of narrators could be complete without talking about a very important aspect of reading. That is: visualizing. For those of us who are visually driven like me, an inner narrator may resemble a play or scene from a movie. Instead of a distinct voice, this reader imagines full scenes or sees images from the book rather than words.

6. The Casting Director

Instead of hearing a strong or neutral voice, this type imagines a cast of characters. As they dive into the plot, the words fade away, replaced by an array of characters and scenes. This type imagines specific actors or people they know in these roles. As they read, they picture them acting out the scenes. The Casting Director may have an inner narrator present, but it’s in the background. The characters take center stage in this reader’s head.

As you can imagine, people who have this inner narrator may want to fight the directors and producers that adapt some of their favorite books. Think about it. You’ve held auditions, thought long and hard about who would fit each role, and then someone else shows up! Have you ever thought that a different actor should have played your beloved heartthrob? Of course, many readers do this. The difference is that the casting decision differs from the clear image of the character you had while reading it. Because of this, The Casting Director could be pretty picky with adaptations. With that in mind, if an adaptation casts actors that align with your own image of the character, you’re over the moon. I’m thinking about Kit Young who did an amazing job as Jesper in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone. I like to think of this as a universal fact now, okay?

7. The Nearsighted Narrator

What about those of us who do see images, but don’t have clear visuals of the characters? Well, you might be The Nearsighted Narrator who sees images, but doesn’t necessarily have a cast of actors that act out the scenes. Instead, you imagine scenes playing out. Is it just like a movie? Not quite. I’ll get to that one next. Like those of us who wear contacts and glasses, this type can see things but not everything. This type happens to be nearsighted so they can see some scenes clearly, but have trouble seeing other details. How does this translate to an inner narrator? When a scene has passionate dialogue and a vivid setting, this reader may be able to see it clearly in their head like a movie. For other scenes, this type may only see blurry images.

Not sure if this is you? Have you ever stopped mid sentence to visualize an important scene? Have you paused to watch a lovely moment unfold in your head? Then you might be like me and be The Nearsighted Narrator! I’ve definitely spent some time imagining brilliant scenes of six crows taking revenge in Crooked Kingdom. This type may also have a neutral or distinct narrator present, but it isn’t the focus when reading. When imagining a scene, the characters may have distinct voices or not. Sometimes it’s clear scenes and other times it’s vague images. The point is, this reader imagines as they read.

8. The Movie Maker

The last and final type is The Move Maker. Unlike the last one, this type sees clear images of the scenes that they read. This type doesn’t focus on individual words or actions, they see the whole thing like a movie. This means they imagine all types of scenes with vivid detail! It could be a scene of two teens running down the streets of Brooklyn or a quiet moment between a mother and son. Basically, if you’re The Movie Maker, you imagine almost all aspects in a story so much so that you see a movie unfold in your head. Congrats, you’ve got Netflix in your brain!

Not sure if this is you? Try and focus on what you remember from some of your favorite books. When you think about one of your favorite scenes, what do you see? Do you imagine the words spoken in your head? Do you see the words on the page? Or do you see an image of the scene in your head? The Movie Maker is visually driven so they would primarily remember scenes they imagined while reading. Because of this, this type may not remember specific descriptions or words. Instead of remembering the specifics, they imagine and feel them. This type of narrator can have a hard time finding a certain passage or part in a book. They know what happens in the scene but they can’t figure out what chapter or page it is on.

Of course, certain books may lend themselves to this type of narrator. If this is you, you probably enjoy some exciting fantasy books with an expansive cast of characters and large battle scenes. Or you may love a good murder mystery where you go on a journey with the investigator to unmask the killer. Like the casting director type, it might be hard for you to enjoy some movie and show adaptations of your favorite book. The movie or series may be good, but can they accomplish the fantastic feats your brain does? Nope, that’s asking for a lot. Because of your own narrator type, some adaptations may not match your standards, but if one does, you are a huge fan. With that in mind, if you see a movie based on a book and then read the book, you probably imagine the movie scenes as you read!

Recognize Your Inner Narrator?

That was eight different narrator types! This is by no means an all inclusive list. I’m sure there are many more. I imagine that many of us may be a combination of these types. I know I am.

Thinking about these different types can certainly beg the question of whether an inner narrator is based more on the material one is reading. It also makes me think if an inner narrator depends more on the reader’s effort. Could we all be The Movie Maker or The Casting Director if we spent enough time thinking about the characters and setting? Could you switch between being The Main Character and The Neutral Voice?

What do you think? Did you find yourself in this list?