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I really love -- and most of time write in -- first person point of view.

The novel I'm writing is somewhat different from what I'm used to. I have four main characters -- I don't see any of them as more important than the others -- each one of them with his own separate plot (even being related some way to fulfill the story).

Like I said, I like to write using first person. I was thinking to title each chapter with the name of the dominant char -- since each chapter will be told from a single character point of view -- and write the contents in first person.

Example: Mark - The Wishing Well

My doubt is: does this work, or it can be too confusing for the reader to deal with different characters in different chapters, all using first person point of view?

I have seen this type of subterfuge -- chapters titled with character names for more than one main char -- but always from 3rd person point of view. I'm really not sure if I should go on with first person or just drop it, using instead 3rd person.

  • Do (any of) characters 2,3 and 4 appear in a chapter that is centred on character 1? It may be a difficulty if the reader suddenly finds the character they thought was the narrator being talked about in the next chapter. – Fortiter Jul 28 '13 at 0:56
  • Yes, they probably will some chapters but, of course, in that case they will be referred as any other character. – Psicofrenia Jul 28 '13 at 9:17
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    @Fortiter I can think of at least one story I've read -- and sorry, at the moment I can't recall title or author -- that switched between husband speaking first person and wife speaking first person. It wasn't about their marriage, but there were a few places where each would describe the same incident from their own point of view, and you'd get a chuckle how they completely misunderstood each other. (I think if this technique was used for a story that WAS about the relationship, you'd have to be very careful not to overdo the he-said/she-said and make the story trite.) – Jay Jul 29 '13 at 13:25
  • he-said/she-said is not my real intent here. It's just a matter of style, not contrasting points of view. Of course, some chapters explain others, but I don't want to force the reader to deal with two different points of view of the same thing. I just want to tell a linear story with its chapters told in first person. It shouldn't be quite straight forward in the normal 3rd person way. My only real concern is that the reader will see a lot of "I", but the "I" is not the same person. Each chapter will have a different "I", explained in the title. – Psicofrenia Jul 29 '13 at 14:01
  • Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak is told in first person POV with more than one main characters. – user14786 Aug 6 '15 at 1:04
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I've read at least one book which successfully did this; the author just titled each chapter "Bruno" and "Melusine," depending on whose perspective it was. The timeline was mostly chronological, although there was some overlap so we see how one felt about the other's actions. It worked perfectly fine for me.

It's not subterfuge. Label each chapter, throw in a time stamp if you want to be crystal clear, and you're fine.

  • Time-stamp is something I prefer not to use, but I liked your answer and I'm really into using character names in titles in this case. Btw, in the book you mentioned, can you tell me if the author only titled the chapters BRUNO or MELUSINE, or he add something more like BRUNO (The Avenging Sword)? – Psicofrenia Jul 29 '13 at 9:26
  • @Psicofrenia It was just "Bruno" and "Melusine." Ooh, and I even found the book for you: Roberta Gellis's Fires of Winter. amazon.com/Winter-Casablanca-Classics-Roberta-Gellis/dp/… – Lauren Ipsum Jul 29 '13 at 9:58
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    There's a lot that can be said about writing in multiple first-person POVs, but this is certainly the answer to the questions "can it be done?" and "Does providing the POV's name in the title make things clear?". Yes and yes - it's a quick, straightforward solution. I've seen it used more than once; it's always served its purpose and it's never been a problem. – Standback Jul 31 '13 at 8:13
  • I wrote something like that once and it went fairly well, even if the "temporary protagonist" wasn't introduced a bit into the chapter - you assign a new name and you make it clear that is a new person. Make sure to adhere to rules of clearly distinct naming. No similar-sounding names, starting with the same letter etc. – SF. Jul 31 '13 at 9:30
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If you need a great example of this, read As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Each chapter was told from a different 1st person POV character, and the chapters were labeled with just the character's name. The voices are very distinctive, and after awhile, I didn't need to read the chapter title to know who was narrating that chapter.

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I think this is a terrific, creative idea, but you have to be very skillful to pull it off. I agree that each character has to be rendered very distinctively. Ken Kesey did something like this on his novel Sometimes a Great Notion which is a wonderful family saga where different points of view are distinguished by italics and normal fonts.

  • I would really like to get a tattoo with “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” ;-) Yes, I agree with you... I'm not sure if I'll make it with success but, on the other hand, I won't know if I do not try. In the worse case, I can open the trash bin and start over in 3rd person. But, I'm confident I'll manage to write in first person with multiple characters. – Psicofrenia Jul 31 '13 at 10:45
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As lonehorseend said, it's important to make sure characters seem different - but adding the character's names is very important.

Case in point - go read some of the I Am Number Four novels, particular the second and third novels. They swap (in third person) to different characters, without even using asterisks as breaks. It's nearly impossible to determine which character is which, and it makes for a very confusing read.

Even if you have to fall to traditional tropes, make your characters unique. Eg, have a 'bitter and moody' character, a 'mysterious past' character, a 'ditzy, but means-well' character etc. Overplay it a little bit, but the reader will clearly understand the differences between the POVs.

To be honest, I would go with placing the character's name at the start of the chapter - if you even think for a moment that a reader might get confused, then don't be ambiguous about it, and put the name there. There's no harm in putting it in.

  • I saw "I Am Number Four" movie and, after that, I just decided I didn't want to get nothing more from the series ;-) But of course, each character will be really differences from the others so, I believe it's easy to tell by the way they act/speak who they are but... Even so... I was really concerned about that specially because, in 3rd person, you will "Karen turned on the the radio" and in 1st person you will only say "I turned on the radio". Simply by having the 3rd character exposed makes it easier to know who are talking and acting. – Psicofrenia Jul 29 '13 at 9:22
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I am currently also writing in first person with multiple character point of views.. at two instances the stories overlap.. it's really not too difficult to do.. tricky, but not too difficult. The trick is not to switch too quickly between characters, as with 3rd person. Using 1st person is a brilliant way to really get inside each character's head, especially if they are very different. My 3 main characters are worlds apart. Darian is witty, sarcastic, clever and a deep thinker Ynara is very observant, but clear-cut. Asjghar is angry, bitter and vulgar.

I have chapters with their titles and then subheadings that indicate in whose head you are at the moment..

On another note I am currently reading a series of novels that read in first person as the main character. When you follow any of the other characters it is narrated in third person. I think it is wildly creative, but she neglects to let you know right away who you are following. Can be frustrating..

I wish you all the best in your writing journey!

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There's a French sci-fi novel, "La Horde du Contrevent" by Alain Damasio, that does exactly this.

Actually, it's even more complicated than that: there's ~15 protagonists, and each of them may be the (first-person) dominant char for ~10s paragraphs. When there's a switch, there's only a symbol (not the name!) of the new speaking character. But there's more: the feat is: each character has a very specific style of speech (poetic, slang, scholar, "normal", funny, ...).

At first, you're a bit lost, but after a few chapters, you can easily guess who is speaking simply by reading 2 ou 3 sentences. This also make you know the characters as if they were in your real life.

This is a huge piece of sci-fi (everyone I know who read it loved it), and the author has a real linguistic talent. I think it may be translated to English in the next months/years (I wish good luck to the translator!)

The main point is: don't add too much information. Trust the readers. They may love guessing what's happening; this may even be a huge appeal of your book. Don't tell too much, show.

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The key with first person point of view is that your character's voice has to come through. So if you write three separate first persons, they all have to sound different meaning the writing style has to be distinct for each one. You can't just slap a character name on the chapter and hope your reader can go by that alone if there is no other context or way to distinguish who's speaking.

It might be easier to choose a main narrator, write that one in first person and then write everyone else in third person.

  • I really don't like to use a narrator. It's related to my writing style. Normally, my main char tell the story so he is also the narrator but I don't like to have a specific narrator outside this scope. – Psicofrenia Jul 29 '13 at 9:23
  • Me neither. I should have said choose the character with the most story to tell and give him / her the first person point of view. – lonehorseend Jul 29 '13 at 11:37
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I have read a series that alternated between two to for main characters every chapter or so an it was really well written. It was all in first person and it didn't get confusing at all each time it would switch character point of view it would tell you which character it was turning to. The series is called The Wolves of Mercy Falls it is really good at that kind of story telling method.

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