Who deserves top billing?

Apart from a few preliminary jottings and an introductory chapter, I haven’t committed much of the new novel to paper or screen just yet. Something is preventing me from getting started and the nub of the problem is this: I want to explore the use of various narrative voices and experiment with different points of view, but I’m not sure I have the expertise to do this. On the other hand, if I don’t try, I’ll never know.

The novel has three main characters. Each has a secret that the other two characters know nothing about, although all three women and all three secrets are inextricably bound together. Obviously the secrets are revealed or uncovered as the story unfolds. My original idea was to write the novel from the points of view of all three women, in alternating chapters, where each character takes their turn to tell the story. What I can’t decide is how to do this for the best effect.

Do I stick to the third person pov for all three characters? Or should I tell the story in a combination of the first and third person? What about second person? (Tricky to handle and dismissed almost immediately.) Do I decide at the beginning that one character is more important, and give her the first person narrative? I admit that when I started planning this novel, I had one main character in mind. As the story has grown, and the cast list with it, I’ve had to accommodate other characters with equally valid stories and equally strong voices. Hence my dilemma. Who gets top billing?

I’d like to be even-handed. I want all three characters to be of equal importance on the page, and they must all get their five minutes in the sun, so to speak, but does that mean that I should keep to the same pov throughout? I think not. I would be too confusing to have the different strands of the story told by three different people, all in the first person. I’m not Jodi Picoult, after all – each chapter would have to be printed in a different font to differentiate between characters. But without being too ambitious, I think I could pull off a story that’s told by the main protagonist in the first person, and by the other two main characters in the third person.

That still means three distinct voices. It also precludes any of my characters insisting on showing me how they want to tell the tale. But they’ll just do as I say, won’t they?

That’s settled then.

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7 thoughts on “Who deserves top billing?

  1. I’m struggling with a related problem in one WIP, which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

    But I think you could give each character first-person voice on a chapter-by-chapter basis. I’ve seen some books do this by indicating who is speaking under the Chapter Number/Title. You would have something like “Chapter 1, Amy” and “Chapter 2, Beth.”

    As you say, you won’t know unless you try, so I would go for it. Even if you decide it doesn’t work, the sections you wrote could be reworked to your final format or would at least give you more insight into the characters and story.

    I’m a firm believer that no writing is ever wasted, although I know some very organized outliners would disagree with me.

    And, of course, your characters will listen politely to your instructions. 😉 (And then happily ignore them!)

  2. I’m currently trying to decide the same thing for my WIP. I figure I’ll work through the outline and them decide what POV(s) are critical to the story. (I’m only deciding between one or two, so nothing fancy 🙂 )

  3. Lots of possibilities here. Personally I enjoy the privacy of the first person for each different character in their individual chapters. I think it moves the story very quickly and the individual voices stand out.

    • I tend to agree with you…. though I’ve just read a very effective short story written in the second person. The ‘you’ voice is quite commanding, but very personal too. More food for thought 🙂

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