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I am writing a novel and I am about 1/3 into it. It is in first person, past-tense.

I am at a scene where the main character (the narrator) goes unconscious. The second main character has only ever been described and integrated through the narrators point of view. However, I want a chapter or two to be about the second character in their first person view.

Would this make the story seem choppy or confusing?

It’s about the second character finding the first one and it’s important that I can express details about this second character while the other one is unconscious. I was thinking about labeling at the top of a chapter saying it was the second characters point of view, but would that be weird if I only did that once or twice in the entire story?

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    Breaking first person POV is an extreme thing to do and generally should be avoided (unless it is known to the reader that the whole story is a narration). You can frame that chapter like "I woke up with a headache, and X told me what happened when I was unconscious" – Alexander May 4 '18 at 20:39
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    What Alexander says is indeed the simplest solution with the least chance of complications. Without knowing exactly what you plan or how you are going to execute it, and why, we can't tell you whether to do it or not. We can say (as I did) that it can be done, and it can be done well. Personally, you may want to go back and rewrite the first third in third person perspective. I for one only use first person if I know for certain that I don't need/want another perspective. – Nero gris May 4 '18 at 21:01
  • That depens on your skill and little else. Consider, for instance, Rosemary Sutcliffe's The Flowers of Adonis google.com/… – Robbie Goodwin May 6 '18 at 15:27
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This is perfectly fine.

The only thing you need to do is let the reader know that they have switched viewpoints. This is easily done by having the new viewpoint character look at or think of the previous viewpoint character.

A sentence like John looks dead. or I wish I knew where John is. makes it unmistakeably clear, that the person narrating is not John.

Example:

...
The last thing I saw before I fell to the floor unconscious was Sarah's frightened face.
 
Chapter 7
 
John hit the floor hard. I rushed to him ...

The clarification may come at the beginning of the chapter – or later, if you want to play with reader expectation.

In The Kiss of Deception, Mary E. Pearson tells the story from the viewpoints of three characters, a princess, a prince, and an assassin. The princess fled an arranged marriage to the prince and lives anonymously in a village. The prince follows her and stays in the village anonymously, so find out why she spurned him. The assasin is there to kill her, but doesn't immediately fulfill his assignment. The princess doesn't know the true identity of the two men and thinks, they are just travellers. The reader knows the two men are a prince and an assassin, but the parts told from their viewpoints do not identify them. As a reader, you don't notice this at first, identifying one viewpoint with the prince and the other with the assassin, because of their thoughts and behavior. Only after some time do you learn that you were mistaken and that what you thought was the prince is in fact the assassin.

I found this very interesting, but also annoying. Nevertheless it is an example of not letting the reader know (immediately), which character the viewpoint has switched to.

A famous novel that is told from three first person viewpoints (and one third person) is William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, if you need evidence from the literary canon.

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I have seen this done once before in a professional book. That book is by Seanan McGuire, though I can't recall the exact title. It's in her Incryptid series.

What she did was start an entirely new chapter, with a different chapter decoration, and opened the chapter up announcing that her cousin (technically her aunt) was narrating. These other chapters were also written in first person perspective, but it was made clear that the narrator was someone else.

An alternative might be to tell that bit as if this second character is explaining what happened to the first, though what you seem to want to do should be fine.

P.S. Another alternative is to rewrite the story in third person. The transition from one character's reference frame to another's isn't as troublesome if you aren't using first person, and close third person isn't that much different from first person in my opinion.

Rewriting might seem daunting, but I've done this myself. It isn't as bad as it sounds. It isn't fun, but its doable. In my case I was changing tenses which can't be done with simply changing the suffix on a verb. I had to rewrite it at the paragraph level, and in some parts rewrite entire scenes from scratch.

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The moment you introduce more than one character narrating in the first person, they're no longer the narrator of the book. Instead you have a collection of accounts which is easier the more different accounts you have and which can be done well (I usually throw Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting as an example), but which raises the question in the reader's mind "who is telling me this story?" (In Welsh's case, it was Welsh - effectively an additional narrator for the collection of stories.)

Two people is tricky - particularly if one tells much more of the story than the other. The reader is likely to think "How does he know what she did?". This can be jarring when the second person's activities are written in third person, but when they're written in the first person this becomes "How is he seeing through her eyes?".

There might be a metaphysical or science fiction answer to this, but if so you'll have to include it and indicate the transition. Alternatively, you could start a new chapter with "This is what she told me happened", but this would probably work more smoothly if the second character was written in the third person.

[I'm using gendered pronouns as a convenient way to show two characters - I don't know whether your book works this way.]

Otherwise, it will be a case of working with the idea that the main character, while being the narrator of his part of the story, is no longer the narrator of the book.

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