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Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 21st, 2010, 7:55 pm
by jordynface
Oh, look, here comes my daily WRITING CRISIS. Fun.

Okay, here's my dilemma. I've just started a new novel (a YA spy novel) and as I go (I'm at the very beginning, only 3k into it), and though I really want to tell this book in first person, I'm thinking it might work better with multiple POVs. (Specifically from the POV of the girl who's now my MC as well as her nemesis). This would also mean telling two stories at once... the story of how these characters met years ago and then parted ways, and the story of them meeting back together in the present time (which is the story I had planned). I think it might work better this way but I'm scared of writing first person in multiple POVs. Does anyone know how to do this without making the characters sound the same?

Advice? Hints? HELP!?

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 21st, 2010, 8:24 pm
by shadow
If you are writing from different POV's I suggest you go with third. Believe me cause I have has experience with this sort of thing and it wasn't pretty. Yep you heard me right. A rewrite was in order. Even if you are doing third person though I don't suggest for you to head hop way too much. I head hop from twi people in my full novel but the MC still has most of the chapters. Most readers like it when they can really get into the mind of one character. Anyways it's hard to say without knowing your idea or your plot. I hope I helped at least a bit!

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 21st, 2010, 8:40 pm
by rwarrencfp
I read a book recently that was done in 1st person with two POV characters. I found it to be confusing in that I had to work to keep track of where I was in the book. That being said, the book did get published by a traditional publisher. So the style is at least saleable.

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 21st, 2010, 9:20 pm
by jkmcdonnell
I think it can work, but it requires strong and distinct voice for each separate character (in 1st person). For example, each character might use one saying over and over, like 'On the other hand...' or 'But if you think about it...' or something to distinguish their thought processes.

If you want to see an example of how it can work, check out Diana Wynne Jones's THE MERLIN CONSPIRACY. It's not a fantastic book, but it makes the dual POV thing work. The author had fairly distinct voices for each character, but she also just wrote the individual character's name in front of each chapter written from their POV.

What I don't think works is having one or two characters in 1st person, then using 3rd person POV for the rest of the characters/scenes. I also think dual 1st person POVs work better than having a multiple-character 3rd person focus, like in 3rd person omniscient. It just doesn't do it for me.

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 21st, 2010, 11:13 pm
by mojo25
As a reader I find it tough to read novels with multiple POVs in first person--it's very confusing keeping track of characters--even if the author indicates the characters' names as chapter headings. It's been done, but I would advise writing it in limited third person, which is almost like first person.

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 22nd, 2010, 12:39 am
by polymath
I've been thinking about multiple first person viewpoint characters, how it might work mostly. I've not seen such a story well-executed: attempted, published, or in progress for that matter. I won't say that it's not been done, though. Surely not anything widely known. A conventional writing wisdom is don't. Don'ts are made to be contravened. So how might contravening that convention be accomplished?

First person's strength for some readers is its instant rapport with a focal character, be it an overt narrator, a protagonist, or a main character at the center of dramatic action, or combinations thereof in one character's part. Also for some readers, deeper rapport comes from first person's deeper psychic access potential.

Younger readers have an easier time finding rapport and therefore reading first person free direct address or indirect address than third person's various addresses. However, I'm a little leary of reading first person from its tendency to alienate by autobiographical author surrogacy's turn-offs, which, again, more easily appeals to younger readers for its simplicity of viewpoints. On the other hand, multiple first person viewpoints challenge that reading skill level.

A potent possiblity I sense for multiple first person viewpoints is two characters in contention for a similar goal and only one can accomplish it. There, that's intriguing, one outcome, two contenders, both empathy-worthy. Two contenders comparatively similar in capabilities separately driving toward the same goal will keep outcome in doubt well into a story. Keeping an outcome in doubt until the bitter end drives tension.

I can root for two character friends I'm in rapport with. I'd be a little more hard pressed to root for a friend and a villain at the same time though. A real-world example of a friendly contention might be Scott's and Amundsen's race to be the first person at the South Pole. Firsthand accounts of both ventures exist, but not combined into a dual firsthand narrative.

Another potent possibility for multiple first person viewpoints I sense, both characters learn or know information the other doesn't. A reader does know all that's known as each character discovers and relates the information. That's dramatic irony, the audience knows what both characters know, but neither character is as fully in the know. A reader gets to oscillate back and forth and question who will win, of course with a surprising reversal, turn, or twist in the resolving crisis that ideally settles the contention in favor of the one who should win by making the greatest character transformation, say a noble sacrifice. A satisfying resolution results from poetic justice, perhaps. Poetic justic and dramatic irony drive tension too.

The base question though, how to keep two first person characters distinct, seems to me requires two distinct personalities. Personality is an interior trait, nobilty, honor, integrity, identity, conscience, doubts, failings and frailties, and so on. First person's greatest strength, in my estimation, is depicting interior traits, especially crises of conscience and/or identity.

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 22nd, 2010, 9:13 am
by esther
I'm reading Jodi Picoult's Handle with Care and it seems to be doing the Multiple first-person POV.
Each chapter gives a first-person POV from different characters and it seems to work (though i can't say it's my favorite style out there).

It might help to check it out :)

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 22nd, 2010, 11:13 am
by marccolbourne
Check out Fall by Colin McAdam. Great book and told from multiple first person POVs. It was shortlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize this year which is Canada's most prestigious literary prize.


Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: March 23rd, 2010, 1:44 am
by HillaryJ
I find that more complex stories, where you want to give time and voice to multiple, significant characters, are best told in 3rd person. Especially when they will most likely be intersecting (enemies) rather than interacting (friends/love interests). Yes, multiple POVs in first person can be done effectively. But, I have to ask...are you an agented (and/or) published author? If not, do you want to be breaking/bending a rule without a sales track record? It is, after all, a business.

A lot of the YA I'm seeing is in first person, sometimes to the detriment (simplification) of the story, sometimes to the point of absurdity (I know that I didn't know anything at that age, let alone exactly what other people were thinking based on gestures or conversations).

Or, you could be like that author who writes the entire book in first person, with multiple POVs to get to know her characters and then rewrites in 3rd person. Such a thought almost makes my head explode.

My advice would be to pick something you are comfortable with, and which will do justice to the story you wish to tell, and stick to it. I once changed 65,000 words of a ms from 3rd to 1st person and considered killing myself at least 65,000 times. Please learn from my mistake.

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: April 5th, 2010, 1:21 pm
by Margo
Has anyone seen a (good) novel use a combination of first and third POV? I would like to start my next (fantasy) project with the MC in first, but I am reluctant to do the other two POV's I want to include in first person. For the MC, it seems right. For the antagonist and the love interest, first person seems wrong. I suspect a combination just will not work.

I feel like making the choice to go with first for the MC means I really need to stay with the MC POV exclusively, which will be a challenge considering plot complexity. Could probably still be done, though.

However, I fear switching the MC POV to third (so I can include two other POV's) would diminish a very strong voice.

Thoughts or suggestions appreciated.

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: April 5th, 2010, 3:19 pm
by Bryan Russell/Ink
Jonathan Lethem's brilliant Fortress of Solitude uses both first and third. It's tricky, though, and he doesn't jump back and forth, which might be very jarring. He starts in third for the first section of the book, has a short middle section that is something the main character wrote and published, and then the third part is in first person (I think I recalled all that right...). It's a brilliant book, really. But I think it would be much harder to try and alternate back and forth. It would feel a little schizophrenic, I think, but you never know. Sometimes the only way to find out is to try it.

Best of luck,

Re: Multiple POVs in first person. help please.

Posted: April 5th, 2010, 3:53 pm
by Margo
Much appreciated, Ink. I will check that out and see what I can learn from the example.