Dual First-Person Narration

I’m about to try something either very brave or very stupid in my never-ending WIP. I’m going to try it with two first-person narrators.

You’re probably sitting there going ‘Whyyyy?’ Or possibly, ‘No! Don’t do it! You’ll ruin the story!’ If you’re in the second group, you may be right, but hopefully in that case I’ll realise you’re right and switch it back to third-person.

If you’re in the first group, I DO have an explanation. You see, for a very long time, this was the story of a particular character. You know, the protagonist. In the past I’ve tried multiple third-person POVs, as I discussed several years ago in a prior post on POV. This is probably the most common way of telling a story in epic fantasy, so it seemed a natural choice; although I was writing urban fantasy, it had a secondary world and a lot of high fantasy elements. Then I switched to first-person and got rid of all the extra stuff. This worked pretty well until I realised that this is not the story of one character, but of her AND HER SISTER. That realisation came at around the halfway point, when they’re physically separated and her sister’s off doing other interesting things without her. In other words, I needed to tell her sister’s story separately.

So, of course, back to deep third-person multi-POV. I wrote some more of my novel in that, then I switched from urban fantasy to pure high fantasy. Perhaps because of the necessary character and world changes this entailed, however, their voices in third person simply don’t feel right. Third-person, even deep third-person limited, is removed somewhat from the narrator’s thoughts and feelings, and this can make it difficult to really connect, as a reader or writer. First-person feels more natural for this story for me, at least at the moment, but the obvious downside is that I have not one, but two protagonists.

For a long time I was against dual first-person narratives. The ones I’d read in the past, like Veronica Roth’s Allegiant and Lauren Oliver’s Requiem, tended to only include a second narrator in the third book in a trilogy, and the new narrator’s voice differed little from the protagonist’s. It felt like a cop-out, like the writers should have stuck with the limitations of their narrative decision. Then I read Marie Lu’s Legend. Lu completely nails dual first-person narration. She takes the advantages of third-person, like giving the reader more information than any one character has, and marries them with the advantages of first-person narration, such as giving her narrators distinct, memorable voices.

Reading a dual first-person narrative executed so effectively has shown me that it can be done in such a way that it truly enriches the story. I don’t know if I have Lu’s skill, but Legend destroyed any prejudices I had against dual first-person narration and opened it up as an option in my mind. Then I remembered Susan Dennard’s suggestion to write in first-person and switch to third if you’re struggling to get a handle on voice in third-person, and that clinched the decision for me. I can try to pull off a dual first-person narration, and if I fail, it will have given me the insight to give a third-person novel a more compelling voice.

Are there any writing styles you’ve avoided until a well-executed example made you reconsider?

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One thought on “Dual First-Person Narration

  1. Not a response to your question, but the suggestion of another approach to your “problem”. I think I’ve read a book using this, but it was many years ago and I’m not sure who/what it was.

    The chapters alternated from character to character, but always retaining first person narration throughout. Sometimes this involved the reader actually “reliving” a particular scene, but perceiving and reacting to it from a different perspective in “real time”. At other times one (or both) of the characters is thinking of some event or sequences of events, whether “past” or “future”.

    What do you think? It does give the writer a larger number of strings to her bow. 🙂

    Like

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