I have an idea for a novel that is told from two, first person viewpoints. One of these viewpoints would be Character 1's and take place in her past, and the other viewpoint would be Character 2's, which would take place in the present as Character 2 falls for Character 1. I would love some feedback on whether or not this plot would be weirdly constructed or difficult to follow. Thanks!

  • Is there one or two timelines? Would C1 and C2 viewpoints describe the same events (one as happening in present, another in the past), or C1 would be reflecting on something that happened years before C2 fell for him/her?
    – Alexander
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 20:23
  • @Alexander C1 is speaking about the past—before C2 fell for her, that is. The two characters would be describing completely separate events.
    – pbjtoast
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 20:32
  • Something similar was done in "Exit to Eden" by Anne Rice. She used two alternating first person narrators throughout the book. In her case, there wasn't the idea of timeline switching as well, but on the surface, having two first person narrators can definitely work.
    – Roger
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 20:39
  • Isn't this essentially the structure of the current TV show This Is Us, but with parents and kids? Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 20:56
  • 1
    @LaurenIpsum Oh I see what you mean, yeah. The structure I'm thinking of is really similar. Nice to know that someone has executed it successfully!
    – pbjtoast
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 23:54

5 Answers 5


Yes, it can be done. But I would think twice about it. A novel should be about telling a story. It should not be about seeing if you can pull off an unconventional storytelling technique.

People read novel for stories, not for technique. Generally speaking you should use the most straightforward and conventional technique that you can to tell the story you want to tell. Only if you can't tell you story effectively using a conventional approach should you use an alternative technique, and then only to the extent needed to tell the story, never for the sake of the technique itself.

Many aspiring novelists get obsessed with technique and with the felt need to do something original. These are traps for the unwary. This is not what people want. They want stories. They want good stories honestly and plainly told. Focus on that.


It had been done before, and it had been done well. The juxtaposition of the two contrasting viewpoints can be challenging to pull off (regardless of the specifics: first person, third limited, etc.), but it has its rewards also. Give it a try, I am a fan already.


This sounds a lot like the way the movie "The Lake House" works? If you haven't watched it, I would suggest you do. Although the movie is done quite well to begin with, it gets rather complicated toward the end, and I somehow always manage to get confused.

I think you can achieve almost anything in writing, but you need to really go slow and think carefully about how to do this.


"The Fifth Season" by N.K.Jemisin contains an element where the story is told from the POV of 3 main characters, and a bit more than halway in it is revealed that two of them actually are the same - just at different times and after a name change. I have a suspicion the thirds is also the same character (not at the end yet).

This worked because the time difference between the two narrative periods is small but due to a crucial event that divides them still clearly divisible - in other words, the reader is never confused in which timeline he is.

When doing this with two different characters, the important part is to not leave the reader confused. Finding something in the background that clearly divides the timelines would help. For example, the couple moves after becoming a couple, so the first POV narrative, the "before" is placed in one city and the 2nd, the "after" in a different city.


Holes by Louis Sachar starts in media res of one of three stories, essentially telling three stories over four seperate time periods. The main character, Stanley Yelnats IV, is in the contemporary setting and view point for this story (his time at at a juvinile corrections facility Camp Green Lake in the middle of the Texas Desert (the lake had long since dried up), and the story leading up to the in media res start of the novel where he's introduced (Time Lines 1 and 2, Storyline 1) where he was falsley convicted of theft and sentenced to the camp and which he blames on the Yelnats Family Curse, a family legend about their generational misfortunes.

His Great-Great Grandfather (Stanley Yelnats, who fathers Stanley Yelnats I) is the viewpoint for the next storyline and is a story about his life in Eastern Europe in the Early 19 century, specifically how the curse was placed on his family after he ran away to America and inadvertently forgetting to repay a debt to Madame Zeroni, an old woman from Africa implied to have mystical powers (third Time Line, Second Story).

Later, the third storyline is about the Town or Green Lake (which does have a lake in this time line), which became Camp Green Lake in the contemporary story. The story focuses on the town's last days in 1888, with school teacher Katherine Barlow as the viewpoint character and the development of mutual romantic feelings with Sam, a black man who sold onions and repaired the school house for Katherine. The pair are caught kissing and the town's outrage leads to Sam's death and Kate's rage induce response occurs on the last day rain was recorded in the town, implying that the century plus drought was divine retribution on the towns people.

The four stories are mostly self contained but interconnected subtlely (for example, the only tow people of African decent in the stories not told by Stanley IV are implied to be related, as the mystic woman says her son had already immigrated to America at the start of the first story and Sam's last name is not mentioned. Along with some idiosyncratic characteristics, such as reciting lines from the same folk poem, it's implied that the two are related in some way. This is hardly the only connection, as Stanley is also revealed to have a family member who met Katherine in a chance encounter and there are more important connections between the four different time lines that occur over the course of the novel).

The 90s novel series Animorphs would frequently rotate first person narrators, with 4 out of 6 main characters getting two books in a rotation of 10 books to narrate and the remaining two getting one book each (until they were promoted to 2 books each in a 12 book rotation). Additionally, a few books would have a main character act as a second narrator (for parts that the main narrator couldn't reliably narrate) and 4 ancillary books (The Megamorphs) were each told jointly by the six main characters' narrations, though the distribution was as needed and an addition 5 books (The 4 "Chronicles" line and the singlular "Visser") were told entirely by secondary characters, with only Visser and the last Chronicle line being singular narrators).

While not a novel per se, Kamen Rider: Kiva was the 2008 entry in the Japanese series Kamen Rider (think Power Rangers in style) and featured a story based around the adventures of Kiva in 2008 and his alter ego's Father in 1988 that the audience learned about concurrently over the course of the series. This was framed in universe as Kiva uncovering the historical events of his fathers adventures and the influence those events had on the present events.

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