My story is told from the perspective of different satellites that are creating a narrative. There are over ten of these narrators. I'm wondering if this might appear confusing for readers if the voice of the author is never seen anywhere in the story. So every paragraph in the story has a different character attached to it as the narrator.

I have several reasons for this. One is to detach a reader from any of the narrators. Don't bother forming any kind of connection to a narrator, because some of them appear once and never again. Another point is to establish a hierarchy. Without some characters first speaking, no one else can. In some way, I am intentionally trying to drown the readers in several narrators to the point where whoever is telling the story doesn't really matter. The story remains coherent with or without the narrators.

What is the best way to present this that won't confuse the reader?

  • so… dialog between 10 speakers? – wetcircuit Oct 31 '18 at 13:26
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    There are portions of the story where humans are having dialogue with each other. But in other parts, the story is being told by these satellite entities. They narrate the story. – shlomotion Oct 31 '18 at 13:36
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    who are they telling the story to? Does each "satellite" have a different character/opinion, or are they interchangeable? – wetcircuit Oct 31 '18 at 13:39
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    @shlomotion welcome to Writing SE! I think in this site you don't need to stress too much that your novel is a fantasy, or give away too many details about the background. Your question is very clear as it is, and it poses a problem that is interesting regardless the theme or the story. I say this so you don't feel the need to over justify or explain your choice. – FraEnrico Oct 31 '18 at 14:16
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    Hi shlomotion, welcome to the site. I edited your comments into the main question body because they change the question quite substantially. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Nov 1 '18 at 14:15

I can think at at least two great novels who do this in a different way:

1) La Horde du Contrevent, by A. Damasio. In this french fantasy, a team composed of 20 members marches over a windy realm. The story unfolds over a sequence of paragraphs. Each paragraph is the inner voice of a character. The reader knows who's speaking thanks to a tiny symbol appended to the paragraph, a nice device that could simply be replaced by the name of the character. The novel is wonderful.

2) Dracula. Dracula is written as a series of letters and diary entries by 4 main characters plus several other minor elements. The device is not 100% realistic, but it delivers.

In none of these examples the reader is confused on who's speaking and what is happening. The intention of the narrator is clear, the description of action is clear, and the different psychologies of the narrators are clear.

There is absolutely no rule that says that the narrator must be unique in the story. As long as the reader knows what's happening, whoever is the narrating voice doesn't matter.

What is more interesting is asking "why" to do such a technique. Is there a specific reason why the story is narrated through 10 point of views instead of, for example, a single omniscent external narrator? This question probably will help you to get a stronger valid reason to proceed the way you think.

  • Disclaimer: I'm working on a novel which has the same premise as yours, a story written by different points of views, so I'm intrigued by the problem! – FraEnrico Oct 31 '18 at 14:09
  • Novels written as letters are called "epistolary" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistolary_novel – wetcircuit Oct 31 '18 at 14:10
  • @wetcircuit yes. – FraEnrico Oct 31 '18 at 14:12
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    the link is for others who may read your answer. – wetcircuit Oct 31 '18 at 14:13
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    These pointers help. Thanks! I like the idea of using some kind of small symbol to differentiate different actors/voices. I am trying to balance the idea of having multiple narrators, but still maintaining coherence in the story. I want the readers to ignore the fact that different people are telling the story, and just focus on the story. – shlomotion Oct 31 '18 at 14:16

This isn't a standard short story, so present it in the most clear and understandable format, so your readers won't have to play guessing games, like so:

Mark: I met Jim when we were in third grade. He was a pushy kid.

Jim: I always thought Mark was such a wimp.

Lisa: It bothered me that Jim was always beating Mark up.

This will give it kind of a documentary feel. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it will be easy to comprehend, and could be effective if done well. It may look intrusive, but it will fade to the background pretty quickly, because it's functional (versus forcing people to guess, every 5 seconds, "well who is this now?").

From a writing standpoint, the typical challenges around multiple narrators are (a) giving us a reason to care about each of them in this very short period of time, (b) giving them distinct voices, and (c) giving us a larger event that we care about to unify the narratives. However, given your aims, it sounds like a and b might not be priorities for you. In effect, you don't really have 10 separate narrators, you have one narrator in 10 parts, or, in other words, a Greek Chorus. So in that case, your biggest challenge is c.


@FraEnrico talks about epistolary novels, and I agree with him - it does sound very much like what you're trying to do. What troubles me, however, is that usually one would have epistolary novels. You seem to be going for an epistolary short story. Ten characters are often a bit much for a short story; you want ten narrators.

I'm not saying that it can't work, but I am saying that you've got your work cut out for you. You've got to mark out very clearly who's speaking at every given point, and you've got to help the audience not get them all confused. Not just "help the audience understand who's speaking right now", but also help the audience remember which bits this particular narrator told before, how those bits tie together, why it's he, and not another narrator, who's telling this bit.

If, as you mention in a comment, you want readers to ignore the fact that different people are telling the story, and just focus on the story, why do you need so many narrators in the first place? Why can't it be just one invisible narrator (you) narrating the whole thing? Usually, multiple narrators would be used when they have a stake in the story - when they've been there, when they see things in a particular way that might contrast with the way another narrator would see the same events. But you're saying you want the readers to ignore the narrators. So what is it that they add? If any element of a story is to be ignored, why is it there in the first place?

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