I am writing a novel (it will eventually be a series of five novels) and there are multiple first-person narrators.

Each chapter starts of with the character's name in parentheses after the chapter number (ie: Chapter 6 (Tessa)).

In the first book, there are only two narrators and there is a mostly predictable pattern they follow, but as the books go on more characters are introduced and there will be a total of 5 first-person narrators, and the patterns of narrators will become less predictable.

The question is, should I use varying fonts to differentiate the narrators or a similar method, or is the varying narration and character's name in the title enough?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give!!

4 Answers 4


With only two characters, alternating between roman and italic fonts would be fine.

But with five characters, using five different type styles would be too confusing.

Just make sure you have five very different characters. One should be able to read almost any paragraph and just know whose it is.

If two of the characters are too similar (motives, behaviour, etc.), the readers aren't going to be able to keep them straight. And that would be your fault, not theirs.

(Note that this is a good idea in general, not only with first-person narration.)


As @RayButterworth alluded to, character voice is key here, and fortunately, it's not limited to this situation; it's an essential skill for writing dialogue as well.

Everyone speaks differently. Word choice is one aspect of this; do they prefer simple vocabulary, or flowery descriptions? Informal or formal modes of address? Perhaps they're usually quite casual, but get verbose and technical when their main subject of interest comes up. You're probably familiar with most or all of that from writing dialogue; every bit of it applies just as much to first-person narration.

An aspect more specific to narration is focus. Different narrators will notice (and record) different things about the same scene. Are they constantly taking notice of others' appearance? Do they pay attention to relationships, and where other characters stand with each other? Perhaps they hardly bother to mention more than the barest details of anyone they don't know well, but record the nuances of a room's decoration and the surrounding neighbourhood's architecture. Some of this stems from a character's personality, other parts from their personal interests, but it can say a lot about them while being surprisingly subtle at times.

There's also tone. How seriously does each narrator treat the events of the book? Does their narration include constant mental asides, or is it very focused on the moment? Perhaps they narrate as though for a personal record, complete with mental to-do notes, or perhaps they're thinking of a wider audience. One might use the narration to snark at their situation or other characters without being heard, while another simply says such things openly and a third doesn't even think them.

A mix of these can make for very distinct narrators without ever being blatant about it; just the character's name in the chapter title, as you're doing, should be quite sufficient. I would strongly recommend against varying typefaces, regardless of how many or how few narrators you have; either the difference will be small enough to be meaningless, or it'll be too much and you'll just give your readers eyestrain.


I've had the same question but I'm dealing with 6 main characters. I agree with what others have said - about certain characters taking note of different aspects of life, and different outlooks, and vocabulary.

I've tried to differentiate between my characters and I've tried a couple of things. Tying back to the whole vocabulary difference thing, some of my characters are more polite in their thoughts than others. Certain people cuss all the time, some occasionally, some never.

You could have a character make up words (if they are a mind-wonderer or unconventional thinker, maybe?). You could have some think in metaphors and similes, and others very literally. Maybe some notice all the negative things, some the positive (glass is half empty/half full).

I've also tried to play with sentence structure. One of my people eventually becomes an unreliable narrator, and I've attempted to implement a strategy I call "Yodification." Think of a 'normal' sentence of having the order 1 2 3 4. Yodify it, and maybe it's 1 3 4 2, or 3 4 1 2. It needs to make sense, but it's distinct enough to alert the reader of who's narrating. Not proper enough to be old-timey English, but not weird enough to make zero sense. Now maybe you don't go this far, but having a consistent system where certain structures of sentences are listed in one person as opposed to another could help separate them.

Also, maybe (based on personality), someone thinks a lot like this. They talk to themselves inside their head. Maybe they are sure of themselves and you rarely see a ? or an !. Just periods. Maybe another person is emotional and always has !!!!!! or ???. Maybe they are scatterbrained and you'll see dashes a lot (-) when they hop from one thought suddenly to the next. Maybe someone is a bit thick-headed, or super thoughtful, and they trail off with these: ...

Certain phrases could be common occurrences for one guy and not for another, as well (like "I don't know", etc.).

I've heard that if you get to know your characters, you will easily understand how they will react to certain situations and you will know how to write for them. Also, trial-and-error and feeling your way through it works, right?


So I would recommend reading the Animorphs and tie in series Megamorphs and "The _ Chronicles" to get an idea, but suffice to say, it's better to denote the speaker changes at the start of each chapter than to do font changes.

Animorphs franchise actually dealt with the same problem having Five first person narrators in the main titles and Megamorphs (all the same five) and later expanding to six. The "Chronicles" titles (includes "Visser" for convience) are first person prequels told by important secondary characters in the series and may have various narrators or a single narrator.

As a rule, in the main titles, one person would narrate one book, though there were occasional secondary narrators for books based on a story need (if this was done, the cover narrator would note it's going to happen in the first chapter. For the transition, see Megamorphs). This followed a distinct rotation, so four characters would narrate two books out of ten books and the remaining two characters initially had one book out of every ten, though late in the series, this became a proper one book every six books.

Megamorphs wold be narrated by all six main characters and usually were stories that required two lines of action going on, so the six would break into smaller groups. The narrator swapped every chapter but were not in their ordered format. The switch was noted by the character's cover photo by their name and the chapter number (none of the franchise had titles for chapters.). The new narrator was selected out of story need rather than order, though in a rare event where characters had back to back chapters, the convention was preserved (usually this didn't happen in favor of a perspective flip to a character who was in scene).

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