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Post Reply Can you write in first-person for more than one character?
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Posted 8/3/15 , edited 8/3/15
First person, retrospective (I'm assuming you will write in past tense) has certain drawbacks you must consider. First, it limits the perspective of the narrative. Second, it reduces the level of explicit and implied risk to character because the character survives in some form to tell the story later. Third, it requires excellent technical control of voice and the techniques needed to make up for the stated limitations. Aspiring writers often make the mistake of assuming that first person is more "intimate" than third person. It is not. It only feels more intimate to the writer. Once a writer's skill develops to the point that they truly shift from writing from self to writing FOR the reader, they encounter the difference between the writer's internal experience while composing a story and the reader's internal experience while internalizing the cues provided by the little black squiggles on a white background. Think about that statement for a moment. Nothing in your heart or mind while composing is connected to the reader's heart and mind while reading unless (and until) it has been evoked by the symbols on the page. Fourth, many writers confuse the idea of first person with the idea that the narrative is being presented by the same character as the character experiencing the story. Actually, at least two character POVs are present during first person, retrospective narrative. While they are both the same person, the person experiencing the story has not yet experienced everything (and therefore changed into the other person) the person telling the story has. In essence, two very different "I" characters are on stage all the time. For each change in POV, you complicate this issue. If you have 3 POV characters, you have 6 distinct personalities on stage. Additionally, you must use those two personalities to speculate about the setting elements that are not visible, the characteristics of other characters, the hidden social and political circumstances in the moment, etc. While it is certainly possible, it is much more difficult to pull off well than working with third person, limited-omniscient, past tense.

When using the invisible narrator (third person, limited omniscient, past tense) you still have two perspectives on stage. The narrative character and the POV character are both present. However, the invisible narrator has the capacity to slide in and out of the head of the POV character (interior vs. exterior). The narrative character also has the ability to let the POV character's internal experience of the world become dominant (objective vs. subjective interpretation). The risk to characters on stage has not been mitigated by the reader's knowledge that they will survive. Someone in this thread mentioned Game of Thrones. GOT is third person, limited omniscient, past tense (with some deftly managed exceptions). Because of that, George R. R. Martin is able to switch POV at scene breaks and chapter breaks without losing narrative continuity. The same narrative character exists throughout the novels--no matter who the POV character is for any given section. Also, because of his choice for narrative form, he can surprise you by killing characters.

Getting away from GOT, consider that the third person narrative character can also have access to abstract knowledge, hidden knowledge, world knowledge, etc. By opening in distant, third person, past tense, a poetic vision of the world and specific setting for the scene can be established. While that is happening, language can be manipulated so that the narrative becomes closer to character, and closer until the narrative character disappears and the reader is able to experience the established setting through the skin (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, and judgements) of the POV character as if the reader is actually that person.

Generally, I suggest that aspiring writers master the tools of Third Person, Past Tense, Limited Omniscient first. That allows them to understand the full limitations of First Person, Retrospective. Fist Person, Present Tense is even more limiting. I won't go there. I have to get back to my own writing.

Luck and skill to all who write and send.

Eric Witchey
Posted 8/3/15 , edited 8/4/15
The above user does a fantastic job of describing the problems of first person! ^^^^^^^

Anyway, I think it would work best if you do a different character's point of view per chapter and not have them all bundled up together. Putting different POV's in one chapter can get very confusing.

And well...writing in first person is very limiting, as the above user states so well.

One last thing, dunno if you noticed but on your page in you "about me section" you wrote "its" instead of "it's" which would be the correct form in this case. Don't forget - "It's" is always short for "it is" or "it has" while "its" is a possessive pronoun that modifies the noun.

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Posted 8/3/15
Thanks for the advice and help guys.
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Posted 8/3/15

xxJing wrote:

Doesn't Game of Thrones kind of do that?

Like each chapter is about a different character.


Yes but in third-person.
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Posted 8/3/15
Yes you can

Just make sure you state which POV it's from

it's very prominent in fanfictions
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Posted 8/4/15

-lumiere wrote:

Yes you can

Just make sure you state which POV it's from

it's very prominent in fanfictions



Thanks.
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Posted 8/9/15

EricWitchey wrote:

First person, retrospective (I'm assuming you will write in past tense) has certain drawbacks you must consider. First, it limits the perspective of the narrative. Second, it reduces the level of explicit and implied risk to character because the character survives in some form to tell the story later. Third, it requires excellent technical control of voice and the techniques needed to make up for the stated limitations. Aspiring writers often make the mistake of assuming that first person is more "intimate" than third person. It is not. It only feels more intimate to the writer. Once a writer's skill develops to the point that they truly shift from writing from self to writing FOR the reader, they encounter the difference between the writer's internal experience while composing a story and the reader's internal experience while internalizing the cues provided by the little black squiggles on a white background. Think about that statement for a moment. Nothing in your heart or mind while composing is connected to the reader's heart and mind while reading unless (and until) it has been evoked by the symbols on the page. Fourth, many writers confuse the idea of first person with the idea that the narrative is being presented by the same character as the character experiencing the story. Actually, at least two character POVs are present during first person, retrospective narrative. While they are both the same person, the person experiencing the story has not yet experienced everything (and therefore changed into the other person) the person telling the story has. In essence, two very different "I" characters are on stage all the time. For each change in POV, you complicate this issue. If you have 3 POV characters, you have 6 distinct personalities on stage. Additionally, you must use those two personalities to speculate about the setting elements that are not visible, the characteristics of other characters, the hidden social and political circumstances in the moment, etc. While it is certainly possible, it is much more difficult to pull off well than working with third person, limited-omniscient, past tense.

When using the invisible narrator (third person, limited omniscient, past tense) you still have two perspectives on stage. The narrative character and the POV character are both present. However, the invisible narrator has the capacity to slide in and out of the head of the POV character (interior vs. exterior). The narrative character also has the ability to let the POV character's internal experience of the world become dominant (objective vs. subjective interpretation). The risk to characters on stage has not been mitigated by the reader's knowledge that they will survive. Someone in this thread mentioned Game of Thrones. GOT is third person, limited omniscient, past tense (with some deftly managed exceptions). Because of that, George R. R. Martin is able to switch POV at scene breaks and chapter breaks without losing narrative continuity. The same narrative character exists throughout the novels--no matter who the POV character is for any given section. Also, because of his choice for narrative form, he can surprise you by killing characters.

Getting away from GOT, consider that the third person narrative character can also have access to abstract knowledge, hidden knowledge, world knowledge, etc. By opening in distant, third person, past tense, a poetic vision of the world and specific setting for the scene can be established. While that is happening, language can be manipulated so that the narrative becomes closer to character, and closer until the narrative character disappears and the reader is able to experience the established setting through the skin (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin, and judgements) of the POV character as if the reader is actually that person.

Generally, I suggest that aspiring writers master the tools of Third Person, Past Tense, Limited Omniscient first. That allows them to understand the full limitations of First Person, Retrospective. Fist Person, Present Tense is even more limiting. I won't go there. I have to get back to my own writing.

Luck and skill to all who write and send.

Eric Witchey


Should I still write in first person?
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Posted 8/13/15
You should practice both. Write a scene in one. Write the same scene in the other. Try different tenses. Try different POV characters. Experiment and practice and experiment and practice until you are very sure you understand the strengths and weaknesses of both. Then, the thematics and the emotional and psychological transformation of character in each story will decide which you should use.
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Posted 8/13/15

EricWitchey wrote:

You should practice both. Write a scene in one. Write the same scene in the other. Try different tenses. Try different POV characters. Experiment and practice and experiment and practice until you are very sure you understand the strengths and weaknesses of both. Then, the thematics and the emotional and psychological transformation of character in each story will decide which you should use.


Thanks.
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Posted 8/13/15
This is precisely how Dracula was written: as a collection of personal letters and diaries/journal entries in the first person (as is natural for such documents).
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