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I've started to write a book of short stories about a quirky nerdy guy and his growth into an adult man (see here for a description). I got a recommendation to use first-person narration.

While about 70-80% of the book has the main character present, I want to include situations and dialogue where he is not. But I'm using first person narration. What should I do? I got some ideas, but I cannot use them everywhere:

  • The main character is close to someone and overhears dialogue
  • A side character says what happened when the main character was not present
  • Write some chapters from the POV of a side character
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  • Is it past tense or present tense narration? Because if the main character is telling the story from an after-the-fact perspective, they perhaps might have learned what was said in situations where they weren't present. (But only if there is some plausible way they could have learned, of course.) - It could also be that the story just isn't a good fit for first-person perspective.
    – towr
    Feb 6 at 20:09
  • @towr Narrator thinks about the past, but speaks in present tense. It will maybe similar to Forrest Gump - Forrest speaks about his past (but story with exception of his comments in in present tense), then he goes to Jenny and story continues about Forrests present and future. Feb 6 at 20:26
  • Best advice is to skip the scenes. Why do you want to include them? No individual scene should be more important than your story. There are ways of conveying information, such as have someone tell your narrator what happened, or the narrator seeing stuff and piecing things together. But a character not knowing something or not seeing something is often more interesting and provides all kind of plot possibilities.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 7 at 18:14

2 Answers 2

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If the POV character is narrating in the past tense, i.e. telling a story that already happened, then they can benefit from the gift of hindsight:

As I learned later, these are the facts that happened before I returned to the room: ...

or

However, while I went shopping, [facts that happened elsewhere] ...

or

In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, [facts that happened elsewhere] ...

This is not the same as omniscience. The POV character only knows about what that they could have learned afterwards. They may still have no clue about events for which there is no witness. For the latter, you could still attempt to narrate them in the form of conjectures or deductions.

And while no witnesses remain, this is what I thought must have happened: [conjecture]

or

It is possible that while I was at the bar, [facts maybe occurring elsewhere].

or

To date I still consider it plausible that [facts of which no one has a clue]

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If you stay in the first person POV (and not shifting POVs is the preferred approach for short stories) then you need to find a way to get the character in the scene. It could be through a recording, allowing them to participate after the fact reacting to what was said in the scene. It could be a listening device -- like an open phone line -- and the narrator can react in real time to what is said.

If the only solution that works for your story is shifting the POV, you can move to another character, but you risk sublimating or diluting your engagement with your main character.

Or you can move to an omniscient POV. Be clear that your MC is somewhere else, doing something else as part of establishing the scene sans MC. The upside of omniscient POV is the expectations of engagement are lower. But, it also means you are more dependent on dialogue and actions to convey character motivations and intent.

To avoid that jarring sense that other writers complain about when you are shifting POV, establish early in the story that omniscient narration is part of the story. If you hook is in an omniscient POV, then drifts into the 1st person POV for most of the story, then the readers won't be surprised when the narration drifts out of the 1st person POV to an omniscient POV.

This technique is used mostly in 3rd person POV -- read S King or S Collins for examples -- but there isn't any reason it can't be used for 1st person POV, other than it is more challenging to pull off successfully.

I think if your story drifts between 1st person POV and omniscient narrator repeatedly, like when the character reacts to an event in the story, and then the narration drifts out of 1st to omniscient POV to share backstory or put the event in context before falling back into 1st POV then it will be seen as part of the voice of the piece.

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  • Thank you for reccomending of switching omniscient POV and main hero himself. Just I must find out how to do it, some examples. Feb 6 at 20:34

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