Allow me to explain what prompted the question before you immediately say that it's not okay and it would confuse the readers.

The protagonist of the novel - also the narrator - has the ability to see the memories of others, sometimes as they are being made, through flashbacks. (Please don't get into how realistic a person having an ability like this is, this is a work of science-fiction and to explain the ability I'd have to explain a lot more and I don't want to get off track with this question.)

At one crucial plot point in the novel, the narrator is rendered unconscious and I intend to continue on from that point, but assume the perspective of one of the narrators close friends to relate the following events. For the previous flashbacks, I've just italicized all the text. I was planning to do this when I start with the other character's POV and somehow explain how she was able to see things from his eyes when she wakes up, but there is a problem with that plan.

In her other flashbacks when she was seeing something from the eyes of someone else, she wasn't in the flashback, so I was able to keep a more distant tone of just relaying what the characters are saying, how they're saying it, and what their doing and not having many of her interpretations or thoughts until after she's awakened from the flashback. This way, I was able to keep it in the first person, yet have the reader understand that while she's still narrating, she's narrating for a different character. But, if I am to do this, she will be in the flashback, actually in the arms of the person who's mind she's supposed to see things from. Additionally, instead of taking the voice of a outside narrating with no elaboration, explanation or inner thoughts, I wanted to really have this other character's thoughts and emotions prevalent, as if he's just taken over narration entirely. The only thing I plan to do so the readers can tell that it's not the main character speaking is italicize the text and make it immediately clear that the passage is from his perspective and not the main characters. I would resume normal narration when the main character awakes and un italicize the text. This would only be for one chapter, a chapter in which a lot of significant events occur. If I don't relay that information to the readers while the events are happening, when the protagonist rejoins the story, I'll have to resort to the cliche'd, as soon as the character wakes up, a close friend tells her everything's she's missed in a weepy voice and then gives her a moment to herself to get her head around it. I would like to avoid this, if possible.

So my question is, is this plausible, or would it be way too confusing for the readers? If it's not, is there any way I could make it plausible, perhaps by using single quotes to represent the new narrators thoughts or leaving it in the first person perspective of the unconscious character, just have her be narrating the thoughts of the other character?

I tried to research this, but any time I typed in some variation of my question all I got were tips on how to switch POVs, which I am already reasonably familiar with, and even if I wasn't there are many different posts on this very website that I can consult. So, if anyone can help me out with this, it would be greatly appreciated.

(I apologize sincerely for the post being so awfully long. It's a rather abstract background and I felt like the question would be confusing and not nearly specific enough if I did not provide some context)

4 Answers 4


I was planning to do this when I start with the other character's POV and somehow explain how she was able to see things from his eyes when she wakes up, but there is a problem with that plan.

I see absolutely no problem with that. If your character's magic/superpower/special abilities allow her to experience the world from someone else's point of view, it is unavoidable that she will eventually see herself, when inhabiting a friend's or even lover's mind. I suggest you emphasize the effect and let her learn a thing or two about how her new "host" thinks and feels about her...

It might be challenging, but worth it!

  • But, if I were to do this, should I put it in the limited third person, or leave it in the first person? Jul 19, 2016 at 22:33
  • I would leave it in a first person to keep the method of the narration consistent. There are ways of showing whose head your character is in without changing POV or formatting.
    – Lew
    Jul 20, 2016 at 14:50

To be honest, I couldn't even follow it in the question. I wonder if you may just be trying too hard not to have a narrator. I realize everyone wants to do first person narration these days, but that is a highly restrictive form and often results in false notes even when the protagonist stays conscious.

Even with a first person narrator, though, it is possible, and even common, to introduce some narrative distance. The first person narrator does not have to always narrate in the immediate present. They can report to the reader things that they were not present/conscious for.

Trying to maintain stream of consciousness narrative when the narrator is unconscious just does not seem like the best narrative choice. However you do it, it is going to feel like a gimmick, and the last thing you want is for the reader to be taken out of the story by the gimmicky way the story is told.

I fear an exaggerated reading of "show, don't tell" has got writers shunning any kind of narrative distance. Yet narrative distance is one of the best tools in the writer's toolbox and is used to great affect by many of today's most prominent authors, and by virtually all authors of the past.

  • This was almost exactly what I would have answered. If the style of writing does not work for what happens in the story, then you need to change either the writing style or the story. Jul 19, 2016 at 9:52

Patricia Briggs did almost exactly this in her Mercy Thompson novel Frost Burned. The series overall (this is book 8) is told in the first person from Mercy's POV, but in two chapters Briggs shifts into third person, and the story is told from the perspective of the main character's husband. She labels those two chapters "Adam." It's just those two chapters.

I would not write entire chapters in italics; it's visually exhausting. It's okay for sections, and I understand why you're doing it, but not for more than a page or two.

If you segue into this other character's POV for one chapter, I'd call it "Interlude: John" (whatever the non-main character's name is) and write it from limited omniscient third. That way we get all of John's thoughts and feelings, but it's clearly not your main character, and the style is different enough that there's no confusion.


I think the best thing you can do is try it one way, and if it doesn't work out, revise it as many times as necessary until it does. It sounds like you can come up with enough angles to try until you find something that suits the story.

  • Very good point! There's something to be said for "Try it and see how it reads, and be willing to change it if it doesn't work." Committing to paper isn't carving in stone. Jul 26, 2016 at 9:57

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