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Writing in first-person, but with interchanging POV, good idea?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by nwillmott8897, Jan 31, 2014.

  1. nwillmott8897

    nwillmott8897 Scribe

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    For my current WIP I have a group of eight protagonists. And although I have a main character that will be the POV for the most part, I'm really playing around with the idea of having chapters told from the POV of one of the other seven protagonists, or maybe even one of my antagonists. Take for example some of the later Morganville Vampires books.

    I think it would be a really great way to be able to see the opinions of everyone, whilst still telling a first person story. And since I'm planning on killing off the main character at the end of the first 'book' I think it would be a great way to soften the blow of entering a new viewpoint. And on top of those points I think it's a really great way of showing off different writing styles and techniques to express each characters personality.

    However I do worry that, although each chapter would be headed with the character name, it could still become quite hard to follow. Especially for a reader who takes a break mid way through and re-enters mid-chapter.

    Over all I think the positives outweigh the negatives, but I just thought I would see what you guys think, since many of you are sure to know much more than I do on the subject... Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2014
    Ruby likes this.
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Well the old adage "if it works, it works" applies here.

    Generally though, I'm not a fan of multiple first person POVs because I find them somewhat jarring, skipping through different characters referring to themselves as "I" every chapter.

    That doesn't mean you shouldn't try it though. Do what you think tells the story best. Just be aware this may be much more difficult to execute well. Have you thought of doing one first person POV as the MC and writing any additional POVs as third person? Maybe I misunderstood you and that's precisely what you're talking about.
     
    Ruby likes this.
  3. nwillmott8897

    nwillmott8897 Scribe

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    That's what I was thinking in a way... I was thinking more that for every 5 chapters written in the POV of the MC, there would be one written from the POV of another character, and keeping them all as first person... That would have been a good point to make in the original post really... Oops! :p
     
  4. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    1 out of 5 seems pretty rare, especially if it's more like 1 in 10 or 1 in 15 for each non-MC character. No absolute rules, of course, but I think if the other characters are getting a VP presence it should be somewhere like 1 in 4 or 1 in 3, so it seems less like a fluke.
     
  5. I did this once. I had two MCs, both had about equal "screen time", and the book was written in first person. The book was unfortunately my first one after coming back to long form fiction from a long break, and I have lots of other stories to write, so it's been shelved for now til i have timet o go back and do a total rewrite. ;)

    The main challenge for me was keeping the voices different. The reader should be able to tell from just the words used - from the "tone of voice" of the first person scenes - which character is speaking. If you can do that, there's no readon why multiple first person can't work.
     
    Ruby likes this.
  6. Ruby

    Ruby Auror

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    Hi, i agree with T.Allen.Smith here. I find that, as a reader, it's often difficult to follow a book written in multiple first person POVs. At the beginning of each chapter the writer usually has to put the name of the character who is speaking.

    The worse book ever written in this style ( IMO but generally accepted to be the case) was a novel that was ghost written, many years ago, for a very famous super model. Each chapter was written from the point of view of one of several characters. Some characters spoke in first person but others were in third person. I found it very hard to follow and had to try to remember who each character was by the point of view being used for them. But then, about halfway through the book when I thought it was sorted, the author seemed to forget which character was in first or third person, and changed everything around. I tried to continue but found the whole book had become unreadable. I abandoned the book at that point!

    Another book I read recently had two MC's: a witch and a vampire. The witch's chapter was written in first person while the vampire was in third person POV. This worked better as there were only two characters to keep track of, but the author had to alternate each chapter and point of view.
     
  7. Ruby

    Ruby Auror

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    I'm sorry, it's too late to edit this now, but I've just reread what I've written above and there's a typo. The beginning of the second paragraph should read, 'The worst book..." Regards and apologies, Ruby.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2014
  8. SineNomine

    SineNomine Minstrel

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    I wouldn't call it a "good" idea, but it is certainly workable and, if done right, could even add something to the story. Others have already covered the main objections, but to restate: it's awfully confusing. You have to work hard on making every POV character have a VERY distinct voice that makes it clear who is speaking at all times, not just writing their name at the start of the chapter and calling it even. Having multiple distinct voices in a novel is...well, hard! It's hard enough at times to have a single distinct and well-written authorial voice as it is, but perfecting it for multiple characters? That's gonna be a challenge.

    When it comes down to it, this is how I look at "the rules" or "how THEY say to do it" when it comes to writing; Everything is a cost-benefit analysis. The more smart people discourage you from doing something when writing, the higher the cost of using that technique, and the more it adds to the story the more the benefit of using it. The advice you hear a lot, the garden variety tips and tricks allow you to write with very little cost so it's very easy to "break even", so to say, with them. But if a way of writing has a profound impact on the story, one you like, it may be worthwhile no matter how big the cost is.

    In this case you clearly see the benefit to playing around with multiple first person POVs and you also seem to be aware of the cost. You have to judge on your own how they measure up against one another, perhaps even play around with it to see it in action and make a more informed opinion.

    Of course, you're actual technical skill modifies things a lot, which is why new writers can work really hard using only basic stuff and barely create something worth reading while a master of the craft who has been writing for decades could probably write a second person 200k word epic fantasy thriller with 30 important protagonists whose names all start with the letter "R" and still pull it off.
     
  9. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    That's an excellent way to look at it. Anything's possible, but some are liable to have a higher cost than others--

    though I wouldn't be too quick to judge a technique's value by how hard it is. There's a fine line between finding that the right trick for the story has an extra impact because not many people can pull it off, and the dread postmodernist love of doing things because nobody else (for good reason) has bothered to try them.
     
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