Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Multi-Person Narrative

By Julie Wright

No, we are not talking about schizophrenia (even if most of us have this ailment).

Melissa C has asked a question on narrative and POV (Point of View).

She is writing the manuscript in first person, but has a point of view that needs to be in the story that is from a differing point of view than that of our protagonist. The question is:

That second storyline is vital to the story, in my opinion but I don't know
what tense to write it in. Do I use third person or what? OR should you even
have a second storyline going in if the book is in 1st?

The answer is you can use a multi-person narrative mode in order to make your second storyline come through. You can do it one of two ways (there are other ways, but these two are the most common as well as the easiest to keep clear for the reader).

  • First person POV with main character/storyline, and first person POV with secondary character storyline.
  • First person POV with main character/storyline, and third person POV with secondary character storyline.

As Heather mentioned in the comment section of the previous blog, the absolute most important thing when you're switching point of view is to make sure the reader knows within the very first sentence that we've switched. You need to change scenes or chapters so the reader knows we're starting somewhere new. There are several successful authors who use multi-person narrative.

It is natural to move into first person narrative when we're story-telling. It keeps us closer to the character and makes us feel like we know exactly what's going on. The problem comes when you need the reader to know things the character doesn't know. At that point we end up contriving stupid scenes that could never happen in anyone's reality in order to put the character in the right place to overhear/see/be-in-on whatever we need them to know.

Having another point of view helps us as writers to avoid the absurd contrivance of maneuvering our characters into places they wouldn't logically or believably be. Even when real life seems contrived. Your manuscript cannot.

So if you need to add another point of view in order to carry along your secondary plot line, go ahead.

One last tidbit of advice: if you're secondary plot line is told by the antagonist or bad guy, you will likely want to do that POV in third person (even if your main storyline is told in first and you want to keep things all equal). The reason for this is that it is very hard for many readers to be too closely in the mind of the bad guy. It's causes a repulsive reflex that is hard to overcome.

Clear as mud?



Anna Maria Junus said...

I find it fun to write in first person multiple viewpoints. Often the characters will see the same situation in different ways, or percieve the same people or themselves differently.

It's quite an eye opener to write this way and allow the characters to tell their stories.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great explanation. I've even read some books where the name of the character is at the top of the chapter. Meyer did this in Breaking Dawn when she went from Bella's to Jacob's pov.