I'm writing a story where the main character wakes up on a boat with no memory, and throughout the story his past will be revealed, along with other characters in the story. It's written from the main character's perspective, but I don't know if the flashbacks should be first person or third. I also want to tell parts of the story when the main character isn't there, so the reader can know details that the main character doesn't. I was thinking just writing the main story in 3rd person, but I can't because the main character doesn't know his name for the first chapter. Any help?

  • Check out How do I write about a character with no name? and What to call a nameless character in a 3rd person narrative? for how to handle the character having no name.
    – Laurel
    Apr 6, 2022 at 20:50
  • You might be able to look at the iconic novel "The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum, as it's a similar situation as you describe.
    – Murphy L.
    Apr 7, 2022 at 17:42
  • Hi Ben. You're probably feeling comfortable in writing in a particular way ... but consider adding a narrator character to tell us the story. With a narrator, you are able to slip into viewpoint (character) and back out again (narrator) in order to be where it's most natural for the story to be told from.
    – SFWriter
    Apr 11, 2022 at 0:16

4 Answers 4


I think that I have a quibble with a character who has lost their memory having a flashback. It is entirely appropriate for a novel to have time shifts -- forwards and backward -- so in that sense, it would be entirely appropriate for some scenes show the character after they've lost their memory and have other scenes before the character lost their memory.

As for POV, it doesn't matter which you choose from a character standpoint. 1st or 3rd will work equally well and have natural trade-offs depending on your goals as a storyteller. Though, in 3rd person POV, the narrator isn’t the POV character and it would be strange for the narrator to have memory loss. This doesn’t present any problem for first person POV since the character is the narrator.

I think that the deciding factor is in the two POVs, does the reader know this is the same character? If so, then it would be important to give the character a consistent voice. And, this might be a challenge if the post-memory-loss character is saintly like Mother Thersa and the pre-memory-loss character is akin to Atila the Hun. Both character need to sound kind of similar since the reader knows both are the same individual.

Then, if the reader isn't supposed to know both characters are the same person, then they'd have different voices. But, as the story is getting nearer to the reveal then might need to converge, so that the reader understands how this pre-memory-loss character became the post-memory loss character.


First of all, when writing a flashback with the character not having any memory of this flashback you might want to write the story in the third person at the beginning since it wouldn't make sense for the story to switch perspectives. However, there are many award-winning books that switch between first-person and third-person and it would be more understandable and logical to change from first person to third person. For example, "The Lace Reader" by Brunonia Barry switches from the main character and her POV to the third person when the other main character tells his story. I hope this helps and if you have any questions, don't be afraid to ask.


I would honestly use third person--if the main character has lost his/her name, it might be confusing having a third-person shift, but done correctly you can make it clear that the person on the boat is the person in the flashback.


Life is Like a Dream:

First, I think this is a style question, and there will be as many right answers as people with artistic vision. BUT if I was writing something like that, I would treat flashbacks the character us unaware of as third person recounting of story.

If the character is remembering things they don't properly "remember", I would treat it in third person as well, describing it like a dream. If needed, the character can tell the memory like he's watching someone else performing the actions. In a real sense, they ARE just watching someone else (their previous self) doing things the main character (the amnesiac) didn't do. If they regain their memories, then old and new are re-integrated. If not, they are two separate people.

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