I'm writing a story in first person, but with a third person narrator for the secondary character. I was wondering if there were any books or stories to research how the first person character could effectively address the narrator in a chapter with competing POVs without confusion?


I thought he was mad. Jason remained stoic, remembering the time things happened at school.
"Is everything alright," I said.
"Didn't the narrator tell you," said Jason thinking of home. "I'm not the sharing type."

  • 3
    I can't even figure out the structure from the passage you wrote. This sounds like a particularly terrible idea, to mix first person and 3rd person in a sentence-by-sentence way like this, to have characters aware of an omniscient 3rd person narrator. I'd suggest a rewrite, to 3rd person limited with the POV character. You absolutely should not have a character aware of a 3rd person unlimited narrator, ever.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 13, 2019 at 11:28
  • Welcome to Writing.SE Jack. Please check out our tour and help center.
    – Cyn
    Jul 13, 2019 at 17:01
  • 3
    I actually kind of like the mind-twisty nature of this. No answer, but it sounds fun.
    – SFWriter
    Jul 13, 2019 at 21:39
  • 3
    A character being aware of the narrator could work in a work with a comedic tone. Deadpool seems to know he's a comic book character in the comics. Likewise he sometimes seems to know he's in a movie in the films. If someone wrote a novel about him, I'm sure he would talk back to the narrator a couple times.
    – Robyn
    Jul 14, 2019 at 3:50
  • 1
    How about "didn't the author tell you?"
    – NofP
    Jul 16, 2019 at 6:47

4 Answers 4


The biggest difficulty with this idea is that from the moment the narrator calls a character me/I/myself, the reader will see the character and the narrator as the same person, and they won't stop seeing it that way unless you start a new chapter that refers to a different character in the first person (and are very careful to do this without making the reader get confused between the two narrators).

When the narrator and a character are the same person, it is unnatural for the narrator to talk about things that character will never find out about.

I thought he was insane. Jason remained stoic. He was remembering something terrible that had happened to him at school, but at the time I had no idea what mad train of thought was driving through his head; I only learned this later when I stole his diary to tear out the page about me and Kylie.

"Is everything alright?" I asked.

"Didn't the narrator tell you," said Jason, his expression unreadable, "I'm not the sharing type."

"You don't understand," I said. "I am the narrator. I won't know what you're thinking now until I steal your diary in chapter six."

If you don't want the narrator to be the character, then the character has to be he/she, not I.

  • I mean, I would totally read that book! May 1, 2020 at 20:58

I'm in agreement with Amadeus here. It's just not a technique that is going to work. I'm trying to think of an exception, and I can't.

Already you're messing with things by having the 1st person narration know what's in Jason's head. Since the main character is telling this part of the story, s/he shouldn't know what Jason is thinking of and it makes zero sense to include it.

Maybe first person isn't right for you. Maybe you really want a narrator that can zip in and out of various characters' heads. That is fine. But it's not what you're doing.

Focus on clarifying your narrative and your story will be a lot stronger.


Your narrator can be a character in the book --for instance, Nick, in The Great Gatsby. In that case, he or she can simply interact with other characters as any other character would do. Your narrator can also be the disembodied voice of the author. If the narrator interacts with the characters in that second case, you are writing experimental metafiction. It's not unprecedented, but it's not mainstream.

Having a character narrate AND simultaneously having a disembodied narrator would be extremely confusing by nature. I'm not saying you couldn't make it work, but you'd need excellent reasons for doing it that way in order to make it worth the reader's effort to puzzle through it. In addition, you'd be dropping all pretense at realism, since we don't interact with disembodied narrators in normal life.

I thought he was mad.

Actually, Jason was just remaining stoic, remembering the time things happened at school.

"Is everything alright," I said.

"Didn't you hear the narrator? I'm just remaining stoic, you dweeb."

I did a double-take. Did Jason just hear the narrator too?

He sure did! What, you think I only talk to you?


There are two styles that come to mind: the Epistolary Novel is the first example, in which the narrator is a character in the story who serves only to tell the story with limited knowledge to the actual hero of the tale and the character in the context of the story is more of an observer reporting after the fact. Perhaps the most famous work in this style is the Sherlock Holmes series, which are told from the point of view of Sherlock's assistant and friend, Watson, and come off as a personal diary of Watson's memory of the adventure or notes for a never produced biography. Other works of this nature include Frankenstein and The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island, both of which are told as letters from the narrator to the reader. Frankenstein is a letter from the narrator describing the story being told to him by the titular Doctor... who was hunting for the titular monster after the conclusion of the Doctor's story. Jekyll was told from the point of view of several documents found after Jekyll's lawyer (who gathered the documents and is the overarching narrator) finds it odd that the good doctor would change his will to leave everything to the criminal Hyde... including a letter from Jekyll. Treasure Island is told from the point of view of an older Jim Hawkins recounting his adventure to the titular Island when he was a boy. The opening contains a content warning by Jim himself and explicitly states there has been some time between the events depicted and the published document (the novel was published in 1881 but the events take place in the mid to late 1700s. The only date known for certain is that it takes place after 1750 as the novel explains this is the date of the Death of Captain Flint and bequeathing of his treasure map to Billy Bones, who has it at the beginning of the novel Jim as narrator would be over 100 years old at the time of publishing.).

Another style which I personally have been playing with is inspired by comic books and is a hybrid third person-objective and First Person narration. The Third-Person is limited to only the actions of the story (including narration of the dialog) where as the First Person will be the main character's own thoughts and concerns allowing for the reader to see the character work through the actions depicted. I call it Comic style as reading lots will usually see the art and dialog recieve comments in "Thought Boxes" (Deadpool's famous "Yellow Boxes") that are the character's own thought processe. Spider-man frequently uses this as Spidey thinks his way out of a situation while the Superman/Batman comic line (especially the early ones) used two differently colored boxes to depict the similarity and differences of the mindsets of the two characters. Often they were near opposite takes on the same general subject. One of my favorites was a series where Batman and Superman have to cover each other's cities (Bruce has Buisness in Metropolis so Superman takes over Gotham while Batman watches Metropolis) and how they hate their opposite number cities (Batman can't find a decent hiding spot to brood even at night cause the city is so bright and can't get a grip with the Bat-hook on the smooth buidings. Superman has difficulty using his x-ray vision due to all the lead paint in the old buildings and has difficulty telling the real cries of distress from the general open apathy of the people of Gotham). Usually I denote first person speech by italicized lettering while third person is normal lettering. If the character with first person knowledge is not in the scene (i.e. I need my villains to have their own scene for plotting) the first person may not comment on the scene unless the comments are occurring at the same time as the last scene using the character, and compliment the actions of the villains. When writing this, I normally write the actions fist and then go back and write character thoughts second.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.