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I am writing a book that begins with the protagonist having amnesia (cliché, I know). At first, I wrote it in the first person jumping from one character to another, however I had to write a whole chapter from that specific character's POV. Third person lets me jump from one character's POV to another quite easily in just a matter of paragraphs, but how can I do this in the first person?

So my question is, what should I do? If I decide to write it in the third person, how do I refer to the protagonist (who doesn't know her name yet)?

  • Hi @YassMeen! Welcome to Writing.SE! If you have time, you might want to look at our tour and help center pages. We've edited your post a bit, so it focuses on the "how to" part of what you asked - we can't really answer "what should I do" questions - they're rather opinion based. – Galastel May 17 '18 at 11:32
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If you find it easier to write the novel in third-person, then you should write the novel in third-person. Regarding how to handle switching first-person perspectives, I'm sure there's a question about that here already, but I can't find it - in any case, I would not recommend doing it within chapters unless you want to confuse your readers.

As for what to refer to your protagonist as - what does she refer to herself as? Or the other characters in the novel? If she doesn't know her real name, then she or the other characters should invent some kind of nickname or placeholder name to refer to her as. This is convenient not only for them, but for you and your readers.

As an example: one of my stories has an entire cast of characters with missing or false memories. One of those with no memories gives herself a (very symbolic) placeholder name, while another is given a nickname by another character just so she has something to call her. Either of those approaches could work for your story, depending on what kind of story it is.

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One solution, at least at first, is to just use the pronoun:

She woke up in a room she did not recognise. How had she got here? Where was she? Come to think of it, who was she? With a horrible sinking feeling, she realised she couldn't remember her name.

Such a structure emphasises the disorientation of being unable to remember one's name.

However, after a while, using nothing but a pronoun can become tiresome, and also confusing if there are other women present in the scene. Then, maybe someone gives the protagonist some temporary name? After all, it would be as hard for other characters to refer to the nameless MC as it is for you. The protagonist might find it jarring, but use it nonetheless in the absence of anything better.

Depending on your setting and story, Jane Doe (whatever the parallel is in the language you're writing in) is also a possibility, but that would create a distance between the reader and the story. It would cast the MC as a random nobody. I'd use it only if this particular effect was what I wanted to create.

  • I liked this answer more! +1 – HardikT May 18 '18 at 4:53
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@galastel is right. You can mix it with another solution: use impersonal designation based on the facts known to the character about him/herself. The protagonist is a woman ? So, "The woman stood up". Is she old ? "The old women walked through the garden." There's many facts about yourself that your body could teach you, and it makes the story even more interesting as you could use the name question as a way to show how the protagonist is building her identity.

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