Multiple First-Person PoV’s – A No Go?

Here’s just something I was wondering about as I was pondering the pro’s and con’s of different PoV’s, trying to get myself out of my little PoV dilemma with Light.

Generally, third person allows for a more omniscient narrative as well as multiple PoVs, whereas first-person is strictly limited to one person and here again a limited point of view as, evidently, one single person can’t possibly know anything that is happening in a story. After all if first-person protagonist already knew about the motivations and plans of the other characters, where’s the point in the story, right?

Now, I ask, why is there such a problem with people saying “Heck No!” if you come up with the idea of using two first-person PoV’s instead?

First off, let’s get one thing straight: there apparently are a bunch of authors out there who used that method before and horrendously failed. Either that or their writing just plain sucked, whatever. I personally have only read one author who incorporated two first person characters in her books and in my humble opinion she did quite an amazing job with it and there are two reasons why

a) Both of her her characters have very different and very unique voices, you have two different characters who have insight in different aspects of her plot. Sure, there are scenes when those two characters interact (quite many, actually), but both characters still see the events differently and you aren’t told about the same event twice.

b) There’s just no way of confusing them. You just need to look at a section and can clearly say which character is talking at the moment, since sections are clearly marked with the respective character name on top of it, so you know exactly who is talking or seeing events happen around them.

Again, let me get this right; I’m not saying that this method is either good or bad per se. It just really depends on your take of it. Personally I just am having my problems with people telling me “Hey, don’t do it, because it doesn’t work.” Might be the rebel in me, but that somehow makes me want to try it even more.

So here are a couple of ideas that I want to work with for the second draft of Shadows. Right now this is a mere experiment. I might notice that this doesn’t work for me in a couple of chapters and then just scrap it. Right now just just sounds like a really cool idea and curious me wants to try it for the heck of it 😉

I think I got the point about distinct voices pretty much covered. This might be another aspect that was rather neglected in the first draft, but Damian’s language and general vocabulary is much more crude and coarse than Ares’. He’s the one who throws in the occasional French and he’s also the one with a more colorful vocabulary of swear words (this is going to be a fun one). Don’t get me wrong, Ares loves to go on the one or other cussing tirade too, but it just doesn’t happen to the same extend. In some way his ‘civil’ roots are showing in his language while Damian grew up with an abusive father and basically lived out his childhood on the streets.

As to the confusion part, I’m going to use the same method here, clearly titling the alternating PoV scenes with either “Ares” or “Damian”, so if you get lost you just need to go back a couple of pages at worst case. Honestly it shouldn’t be that much of a problem since you don’t just use “I” or “me/mine” in first person, but also refer to other characters by name.

Oh and before I forget it, since I only mentioned it as an aside in reference to Monette’s work; you definitely want to avoid repetitions. Don’t tell the same event from both PoV’s. It’s either one or the other, even – and even more so – if both characters experience it. Sure, you can use the character who hasn’t directly “told” us about the event from their eyes to reflect on it later, but it really shouldn’t be more than a side comment or two. You don’t want to read the same story twice after all.

It’s just one of those things I’ve been wondering about for quite a while since my friend Jen once suggested incorporating Damian as a second first person PoV quite a while back and I always was like “Nah, that doesn’t work.” Maybe I just had to read it “done right” to change my perspective there, but then again it’s certainly nothing that works for every book.

And I suppose that about sums it up. Are there any other points that you like/dislike about multiple first person PoV’s or first person PoV in general?

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One Response to “Multiple First-Person PoV’s – A No Go?”

  1. Don Says:

    I agree with everything you have said. I have read a number of articles stating that multiple first person is possible. Although I don’t recall having read any story stories structured as such.

    But I have seen a number of movies with multiple first persons. Each one of those movies the characters retold the same story from their perspectives and most have been successful. The most recent that was in theaters a couple of months ago wasn’t too bad, but I can’t remember the name.


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