Wanting to show a character's thoughts and still giving them a mysterious quality

by Alisa Anne
(United States)

Question: Okay. I know I have asked a few questions on here that are along the same lines, but I have to make this clear to myself.

I want to write in 1st person, but there are times when I want to show the reader the thoughts of the male protagonist and what he is going through. I thought I could make the female lead the main narrator, and, when it is time to make the male lead the narrator, I would start the new chapter by describing the female lead through the male lead's eyes. This way the reader can confirm that the female is not the narrator anymore.

That is when a new problem presented itself to me. I like conflict and suspense when it comes to the female lead picking between two or more guys. I don't want to reader to know who he is, so having the male lead's voice known would hinder that. The reader would know who she will pick. That is when I thought that I could give one of the other guys a voice too. The problem with that is that I am getting too many narrators, especially for a 1st person novel.

Just to clarify, there will only be one character telling the story per chapter. I will never change the narrator in the middle of a chapter.

What I want to know is if the first solution is okay. Would changing the narrator confuse my readers as long as I make it clear who is speaking? I would also like to know someone's opinion on the suspense problems I have that conflict with the first solution.
Any suggestions?

Answer: It would be silly for me to try to drag you kicking and screaming towards 3rd person limited narration, so I won't suggest it again. I'll assume your instinct about using first person narration is correct for your story. I mean, you have to follow your passion as a writer.

So, your question, if I'm reading this right, is how to introduce the male lead's viewpoint without tipping the reader off that he is the one your female lead is destined to be with?

If this is a romance novel, the problem is a bit trickier. It's part of the romance formula that the female and male leads meet practically on the first page, so readers know immediately what direction their relationship is headed.

On the other hand, if this is a fantasy novel that happens to have a romantic subplot, you have a little more leeway.

One thing that occurs to me is that you might consider when exactly these two people realize they have an attraction for each other. Does the male lead have to be smitten right away?

In other words, could he have his own story that at first just happens to cross paths with the female lead, but only gradually develops into a relationship as their stories become more entwined?

Meanwhile, you could give her potential romantic partners in her own story line which do not work out for various reasons. She could realize a more meaningful attraction to the male lead much later in the story. The other romantic candidates could serve as red herrings to distract the reader (and the woman herself) from the genuine relationship that is growing.

You could be subtle about revealing the male lead's feelings, perhaps giving clues that he himself does not recognize. He could actually dislike or disapprove of her at first, yet somehow she could occupy more of his thoughts than someone he had no regard for.

A couple of other possibilities...

1. Could you have three points of view? Yes, but it is trickier. Also, you need a good reason for having each POV character (other than to distract the reader), because it's like having three separate stories, and they all need to be developed and intertwined.

2. It is possible to tell the female lead's point of view in first person but then switch to 3rd person for one or more other POVs. That would also help signal the shift.

Hope this helps.

Comments for Wanting to show a character's thoughts and still giving them a mysterious quality

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May 26, 2012
OMG! Thank you!
by: Alisa Anne

You don't know how much of a help that was! You just answered my biggest writting problems!
I just have one more question. At the end of your answer,you wrote about two other possibilities. Could you explain the second one again for me? Thank you!

May 29, 2012
by: Glen

What I meant by #2 is that when you are writing from your female lead's point of view, you can write in 1st person, so that she refers to herself as "I."

However, chapters written in the male lead's point of view, could be in 3rd person limited narration.

The reader would notice the change, and that would help signal that the story is now being told from a different perspective.

The challenge when you use 1st person for more than one character is that both characters refer to themselves as "I," so the readers need other clues to help them know when you switch viewpoints.

If you use 3rd person for your male lead, you will identify him by name, which makes it clear to the reader that the viewpoint has changed.

One series that does this are the Bartimaeus books. The chapters from Bartimaeus' viewpoint are in first person, while the chapters from Nathaniel or Kitty's viewpoint are in third person.

May 30, 2012
Thank you! Thank you!
by: Alisa Anne

This makes things so much easier~

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