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Author Topic: Multiple First Person Narratives  (Read 2941 times)

Offline Takoren

Multiple First Person Narratives
« on: August 14, 2015, 02:59:39 PM »
I usually don't use first person narratives, unless I'm writing a creepypasta because that's part of the genre.

However, while starting this story I'm working on, I kept wanting to write it in first-person, the main problem being that there are several POV characters in the story. I was writing in their "voice", as I always did, but I kept wanting to write it as though they were telling the story.

I don't recall reading many books with several first-person narratives. The only one that comes to mind is a vampire smut novel I read once called Staked and it had two first-person narratives going on. I wasn't all that impressed and didn't feel like it worked, but I blamed the author's inability to write in different voices.

What do you think? Can a writer successfully juggle numerous (in my case, six or seven) first-person narratives? Or should I just stick to third person limited perspective?
"The battle's won easy and the war's won cheap
My lords seem to trust me but I'm just 18
So I'll hang their hides from the bannisters
When I take my revenge on the Lannisters
Got engaged to a Frey so I could win a free pass
Can't get with Talisa but damn dat ass
Hey, hey, I wanna be Robb Stark..."

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2015, 03:16:57 PM »
I've never seen it done, but I'm sure you could do it, if you made the "voice" of each POV character interesting enough. That said, something I have seen is mixing 1st/3rd.

In Tom Doyle's books, American Craftsmen and The Left-Hand Way (both out from Tor, and both really good books) he always picks one character to be his 1st person narrator (though it changes in each book). He also shows perspectives of other characters in the book, and will often shift to them, but those characters are always 3rd person.

So, reading his books is an odd but interesting mix of styles. You have perhaps maybe 4 POVs in the book, but only the "main" is 1st person, and the other 3 are all 3rd person. So it's easy to distinguish who is who.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2015, 03:20:16 PM »
Dreamer's Pool has three first-person viewpoints, and it worked well enough for me. I think the main reason it worked is that the three viewpoints had very different narrative styles - Blackthorn was fairly standard, with nothing really unusual about it from what I remember; Grim stood out because his were in present tense, which fits his character; Oran was very verbose and had a noticeably extensive vocabulary, which again fit the character.

Fool's Assassin has two first-person viewpoints, but their styles are very close together. When the second viewpoint was first introduced, it tripped me up, since I had no idea that the viewpoint had shifted until a couple of pages in when it was made clear (because the new viewpoint character mentioned the other viewpoint character). Despite that hiccup I love that book (and its sequel), and think the narration is great. The two viewpoints are a lot clearer in the second book, but that could be because the characters are separate.

So yeah, I'd say go for it. It's unusual, and it might help to use techniques like those I mentioned from Dreamer's Pool, but I don't think there's any reason not to give it a go. :)
« Last Edit: August 14, 2015, 03:45:24 PM by Raptori »
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Offline JRTroughton

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2015, 03:39:24 PM »
Bloodtide pulled it off pretty well. It's definitely viable.

Offline cupiscent

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2015, 03:13:01 AM »
Multiple first-person is getting quite common in YA spec fic, actually. Kaufman and Spooner's These Broken Stars and sequels use it, and I've just started Marie Lu's Legend, which also uses it. You do want to make sure there's no confusion about who's speaking. Labelling the chapters with POV is helpful, but the key is in strong  and different voices.

Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2015, 03:48:51 AM »
The Sound and the Fury might be the most noticeable answer, though there are others like Dreamer's Pool and These Broken Stars that show it's used in SFF somewhat. The problem lies, as cup said, in that the narrative more often than not needs a reason for the multiple 1st persons, let alone a strong narrative voice for each.

It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but if it fits your story (most noticeably a mystery or skewed observations of multiple characters) then it's much easier to pull off.

Still, I've tried it myself with only two characters and have been wary of other people that have attempted it. But six or seven? Let me be honest when I say that sounds impossible.
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Offline Lady Ty

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Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2015, 04:05:33 AM »
There is a well known old classic,  The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, written in multiple first person narratives and it worked very well.  It is considered the first crime novel and I loved it, but it is typical 19th century writing so some people may not be so keen.

You can have a quick look here to see how it worked.

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Offline Cambra

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #7 on: August 15, 2015, 10:36:03 AM »

The modern thriller Gone Girl used alternating first person narratives very effectively.

Offline Francis Knight

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2015, 11:48:34 AM »
I was going to say Gone Girl too

Also, Cloud Atlas. At least parts of it are first person (I don;t recall if they all are) and it is masterful at changing voices.
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Offline K.S. Crooks

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #9 on: August 16, 2015, 02:13:55 PM »
I think you need to know which voice is most dominant. If all the characters are together which voice will be heard. In what order are your characters most important.
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Offline Sir Gawain

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #10 on: August 16, 2015, 03:05:41 PM »
I think that if you are good enough, you can write whatever you like and make it successful. I recall reading a few books with multiple first person pov. It's awesome for showing secrets and character motives, and I often find myself cheering for some characters and despising others.

The only real concern I would have is how many characters would have a voice. If you are able to separate them all in your head and they sound truly unique, then hey, write 7-8 first person pov. But I would think that after four, you might begin using the same syntax, same vocabulary, and it might be confusing to the reader or make some of your characters look like clones or extras. I would sort of think which view points were most important and see if you can't incorporate some of the lesser characters into these key pov character narratives.

You might also have an issue with giving each character time to shine. If you have 8 characters, that's automatically at least 8 chapters for each character introduction. And If they all had at least 5 chapters, you would be looking at 40 chapters alone. Having more characters would force you to give less attention or time to any one character. If this doesn't matter to your plot line, then it shouldn't be a problem either.

I remember one awesome book in particular that had me on edge reading between the two first person pov characters...and then they added a third character about midway through the book. I took this in stride because it was done shortly after the third character was introduced. But then, 3/4 of the way through the book, they added yet ANOTHER view point of a character that had barely been mentioned. And I was left going, "Who is this stranger and what just happened?" I almost put the book down because of it.  So you might have to watch the timing of introducing these multiple characters and give them voices so distinct that you know who the narratives belong to.

And as far as the chapters go...the only other problem I could think of is switching POV between characters mid chapter. I've never read a book that did this well, and I usually wind up frustrated and confused. It also makes it hard to really get to know a character if you are constantly body hopping.

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #11 on: August 18, 2015, 04:17:46 AM »
Well, a classic written with more than one first-person narrator is Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible also has multi first-person narrators.

In fantasy:

The most recent Fitz/Fool novels by Robin Hobb have two first-person pov characters.

Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett's Havemercy and sequels have four first-person povs in each book.

I know I've run across others, but those are the ones that spring to mind most immediately.

Offline night_wrtr

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #12 on: August 20, 2015, 03:03:24 PM »
I don't recall ever reading a book that used this technique, but I love the idea as long as each voice is unique and brings something special to the table.

Offline PeteMC

Re: Multiple First Person Narratives
« Reply #13 on: August 25, 2015, 02:35:58 PM »
It can certainly be done - Faulkner did it withAs I lay dying does this, and so (oddly enough) did Jackie Collins in one of her early books.
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