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Originally I asked this question: What is a "methodology" I can I use/follow to determine the ideal set of protagonists for my story?, but found that it was too vague.

Specifically, I'm trying to decide if my story would benefit from switching between two main characters in first-person or if I should stick with a single first-person narrative or use third-person omniscient.

Things to consider in addition to the general question: Both characters have extremely different background knowledge(s) and outlooks on things. They each have a unique voice. They will primarily spend their time together, but will have segments apart from each other. At first, they will have the same plotline, but later will have complimenting roles and goals and such.

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    Related, but not a duplicate: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/8514/… – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 4 '16 at 10:48
  • Are you sure you mean multiple first person POVs? I'm no literary expert but I've never read a book with more than one first person POV. This might be why you don't have an answer you like. – mwo Jan 7 '16 at 13:30
  • Okay, I've since found some examples, so my response is somewhat withdrawn. – mwo Jan 7 '16 at 21:37
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I put some extra thought into it, Justin. Hope I can help:

  1. Does each character have their own compelling story? It is not enough simply for Robin to have a story outside of Batman. It seems to me that a third-person omniscient choice would be better at least for the Robin side of the story in this scenario.

  2. Is each character equivalently important? The reader needs a character to latch onto to feel connected with. Many stories have an adventuring party with individual characters being more or less important based on the scene. These stories are told third person precisely so that the narrative can focus on the moment, regardless of which characters are involved. But in order to pull off two first-person accounts, their two stories have to be more important than any other character at any other time and equally important to the mission. Otherwise, one character is subordinate, so why give him an equivalent voice?

  3. Can you solve the "I" problem? Many clever writers think they can average less than 10 a page (I've been involved in my share of writer's groups; of course, this is an arbitrary number), but it's really hard to do. Do you have a sample chapter or two? Have you shown it to anybody?

  4. Good stories don't need gimmicks. What you propose is unusual. Why? How does telling your story in simultaneous first-person accounts rather than a first and a third, or two thirds, make it a better story?

  5. Can you tell your first-person story in such a way that the reader doesn't get confused and continues to turn pages? This is a marketing issue. If you are not trying to publish or sell your book, then it doesn't matter.

If you have an answer to all the above, you're set! Good luck!

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A few years ago, I enjoyed reading the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. It has a total of nine books, I believe, and follow the adventures of a group of kids. As the series progresses, we mainly follow one protagonist, but it begins to split off into many different chapters with many different POVs when the characters begin to move apart geographically and emotionally.

If you believe that your story will benefit from seeing situations from more than one POV, then do it. I would advise against replaying the same scene twice, but allow your characters to speak frankly to one another and express opinions that way. As they split up, I would feel free to explore different POVs.


Another way you could consider if by using different books. If it fits well with the story, you could develop two separate "series" of books, one from each character's POV.

The Divergent series by Veronica Roth did this. Although I didn't read this series, I know it follows one main character's POV through three books. Then, in another series that is separate but connected, she takes another one of her characters and follows him through his past and a few scenarios from the original book.


I wish you luck in your writing endeavors, and I hope that I'm able to help. Figuring out POVs is always a hard part of the writing process. If there's anything I can help with, please let me know!

  • "I would advise against replaying the same scene twice" Oh boy, yes. For every one masterpiece like Rashomon there are ten repetitive demonstrations that an author is a little too comfortable with the "copy" and "paste" functions on a word processing program. – Lostinfrance Jan 3 '16 at 23:37
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"Both characters have extremely different background knowledge(s) and outlooks on things. They each have a unique voice. They will primarily spend their time together, but will have segments apart from each other. At first, they will have the same plotline, but later will have complimenting roles and goals and such."

The factors you list above suggest to me that you are already inclining towards two points of view, and have good reasons for wanting to take that path.

One way to decide is to look at how you will deal with those scenes vital to the plot that the main main character (the one who will be the sole narrator if you decide to take that route) does not personally witness. Does the fact that these scenes remain unseen to the reader unless and until some other character tells the protagonist what happened strengthen the story or weaken it? It could be that their invisibility strengthens the story, adding tension and mystery, as the invisibility of the murderer strengthens a detective story. In that case go for single POV.

Or it could be that the necessity to have some other character tell a story-within-a-story in order to let the narrator and hence the reader see what went on comes across as remote and contrived. In that case you want two POV characters who can each experience "their" parts of the story in exciting real time, no need for boring retellings later. And the differences between the perceptions of the two main characters can be another generator of interest and drama.

I am aware that I've addressed the question of single versus multiple points of view, but not the equally big question of first versus third person. Is there any reason why you can't have two points of view each written in the third person? Not that there haven't been some great stories written in the first person, but it is currently out of fashion, so getting published might be harder

  • I'm leaning towards first person because each character has a unique way if describing the world and story that is a form of entertainment in and of itself. – Justin Alexander Jan 3 '16 at 23:32
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If you decide to do this, please don't follow in the footsteps of Robert Jordan. He started out with a few characters exchanging points of views, but those characters kept meeting people who became important to the story and they earned a point of view chapter. And then those people met more people.

I quit reading his series in the sixth or seventh book. There were over six hundred pages, but due to many different characters with their own story lines that I think the entire book only covered 48 hours worth of time. And I've been told by his biggest fans that the pace of the story just continued to drag down slower because there were just too many characters.

  • Part of the reason I asked this question was because of WoT. My characters are merely two people who encounter others of equal importance. But I'm not planning to have anyone join the duo at all anytime soon. And if someone does join, it's highly unlikely they'll get their own POV. – Justin Alexander Jan 4 '16 at 2:43
  • Good thinking. I'm also considering dual PoV in a third story. The first two stories each have their own single character PoV and I'm toying with having the two of them take turns in the final one. I back away because WoT really soured multiple PoV for me in a big way. That combined with his habit of giving several characters nearly identical names... I think something died inside me while I was reading Path of Daggers. – Keobooks Jan 4 '16 at 3:46
  • Just to confirm for other readers (I got confused and had to check!) WoT refers to a series of fantasy novels called "The Wheel of Time": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wheel_of_Time – Lostinfrance Jan 4 '16 at 9:34
  • I like the R. Jordan reference. I made it through about 2 1/2. Glad I stopped. However, he and Diana Gabaldon are examples of modern epic writers that show commercial success in the 150,000+ word range for those of us who tend to ramble. – Stu W Jan 4 '16 at 13:48

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