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Writing low-quality novels on my spare time is my hobby and I'm currently "working" on one where the story about a country with an ongoing civil war. I'd like to alternate between different narrators (a teacher, a farmer whose village was burned to the ground, a soldier and a high-ranking officer) to show a variety of perspectives (always in first-person).

My idea is to change narrators after each chapter without warning. As one chapter ends, a new one starts with a different narrator. This method would be ideal but I'm not sure if this would confuse potential readers. I've also considered writing in four different fonts, one for each narrator, but what about dialogue then?

So my question for you is: do you know of any sound technique for handling narrator changes?

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  • Would be helpful if we knew what the Narrative Voice was (First Person? Third Person? ect.). It could also be helpful to know if these stories are self-contained or intertwined AND if they are continuous or ongoing. – hszmv Dec 3 '20 at 12:41
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    @hszmv I would guess that if these people are described as the narrators, it's first person. To me, third person has an external narrator, just one who may focus very closely on one character (which I would call from that person's perspective). Then again, I know my opinions differ from the current vogue... – DM_with_secrets Dec 3 '20 at 12:51
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    @DM_with_secrets First person is someone who has a role in the story and interacts with the other characters and are limited in only what their character experiences. Third Person narrators have no interaction with the story and can either be omnicious, limited-omnicious (they know everything... about one character) or objective (they only describe the situation as if they were a camera. – hszmv Dec 3 '20 at 13:16
  • @hszmv Sorry for generating confusion. I'm using First Person – David Dec 3 '20 at 16:34
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    @DM_with_secrets: Highly recomend you take a look at the way it was done in the Animorphs series if you can get you hands on some of the books. Any of the Megamorphs show decent examples, though rarer, some main line titles and at least one Chronicles title should also have good examples. The series is currently out of print and if read, keep in mind it is very much a 90s period piece at this point (they were new in the mid-90s, and the author used a lot of pop culture references). – hszmv Dec 3 '20 at 17:01
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I'd recomend giving a read to the Animorphs Series, specifically the Megamorphs line and a few of the Chronicles series. Either way, the main-line series features six main characters who swap first person narrative duties during the main line books (originally in a rotation of five books, the four human characters get one book a piece, while the non-humans, a human permanently turned into a hawk and an alien, would take the final book every other rotation. Or to better explain, each of the four humans would books numbers with the same two digits (1s and 6s, 2s and 7s, 4s and 9s, and 5s and 0s) and the non-humans would get one book (Hawk got 3s and Alien got 8s). This changed towards the end of the series so that each character would get 1 book in a rotation of six (In the first rotation to use the change over, the Hawk got the 3 book in rotation and the alien got the 6th book in rotation).

The Megamorphs line were a series of five books in which all six main characters took turns narrating the story, a chapter at a time, with each chapter naming the narrator as well as showing their picture from that book's cover art. There were occasional mainline books that did this two and the default narrator would let the audience know this was happening well in advanced (Book 19 was the first to do this). The Chronicles line were a series of prequels told almost always by non-main charaters (though one begins with a main character meeting some side characters who tell him a story from thier culture so he narrates the first and last chapter) and could either be a lone narrator or a mix of shared narrators. In the later case, the same chapter marking format would take place.

As a general rule, all narrators should be consistent within chapters, and if you plan to do this frequently, you should denote who is your storyteller. If the characters all only narrate one story contained to one chapter, you might consider titling each chapter in a way that signifies it's this persons tale (I.e. The Farmer's tale, the Teacher's tale) or in a way that alludes to the profession and possible story (I.E. The Great Harvest, The Lesson Plan, Rank and File, Chains of Command).

These aren't hard rules as the Harry Potter series was 90% told from Harry's POV but there were a handful of chapters that weren't (Chapter 1 Book One was told from Uncle Vernon's with a switch to Third Person Objective, Chapter 1, Book 4 was told from a muggle's point of view, and Chapters 1 and 2 were told from an unnamed UK Prime Minister (who is remarkably similar to Jim Hacker from "Yes, Minister") and Malfoy's mother's Perspective respectively. None of these are overtly annouced in the chapter title, but they serve more as prolog to the main narrative.

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How exciting! I hope your work goes well.

On changing narrators:

I think that what you said you want to do is difficult due to, I think, making the characters unique enough in their own voices that the reader will have no problem distinguishing one from the other.

That being so, the question becomes how does a character have a “voice”? A more intimate question would be the same question, however, this time direct it at yourself. Is your own voice, as an individual in the world—not as a writer—one that is distinguishable from another?

I think those three questions directed at oneself and the characters will help one learn how to write people, which, I think, is the best way to make characters stand out, not only by their actions alone, but through their words. The thing is that the words have to make the characters sound different more than their actions when it comes to narrative.

On dialogue after considering narrative:

This is difficult because now you have your characters unique in narrative, however, you may not want to sound repetitive in dialogue after having the characters in the dialogue just had a narrative section.

I think this is where your question on sound techniques comes in. By sound techniques I take you to mean how characters annunciate, dictate, and oblique uses of speech. If that is the case, I can’t be of help because I think the questions posted in the section above are what one needs to write people.

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