First-Person Suicide

by Rocky
(MD)

Question: I'm on my second draft, with a main character struggling with emotional and mental health problems.


I use the first-person in the past tense.
Because of the past-tense use, would it be possible in any way for me to allow my main character to commit suicide?

Answer: Yes and no. In terms of the reality of the story, how can your main character be telling her story if she is dead?

Some writers have gotten around this dilemma by explaining at the end that the character has been dead all along and is narrating from the afterlife. The film Sunset Boulevard is one well known example. The TV series Desperate Housewives is another. However, it can feel like a bit of a cheat for the reader unless you make it clear early on what is happening.

Of course, if the suicide is the last event of the book, you could have the narrator tell the story right up to the moment, explain what she intends to do next, and then stop. The reader will then infer what happens next. This also works with epistolary novels--where the entire book is the main character's diary.

Another option is to have an epilogue written from a different character's point of view--perhaps the person who found the body.

What's even trickier is if the suicide comes in the middle of the story. Who narrates what happens afterward? You could switch to a different character's point of view, but that would essentially give the reader two stories within the same narrative. The first story would be about the character who dies. The second story would be about the character who lives.

Comments for First-Person Suicide

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Apr 07, 2014
Omg YES! Idea time
by: Arianna

This is really good advice.
I have an idea now, actually.

The beginning of the manuscript starts out with Tyla (my MC) in the hospital after attempting suicide for the 7th (I know - crazy) time. She's been desperate to get it right but something happens every time and she ends up surviving each brush with death.

I could have her narrate everything until the end of the book, switch it to present tense - so that she would be narrating in-the-moment - and then I could have her attempt suicide again but I wouldn't say what happened afterward.

That way, the reader will have to guess whether she failed again or actually succeeded this time. It's perfect.

Apr 07, 2014
By the way
by: Arianna

I just realized I posted this under my nickname. Lol whoops

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