1. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Multi-character First Person

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by sprirj, Aug 17, 2014.

    I was just wondering if there is a best method or tried and tested way of writing a book in 1st Person, yet write for multiple characters? I would normally give a character a dialect, or a feature that I could reference. However, this time the multiple characters are clones of the same person, so I've probably done something impossible. Currently I use different colour highlighter pens to keep track of each character, but I can not do this in a book. Any thoughts? And yes it does have to be in first person. :)
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Use a separate chapter for each character. That's the way most people handle this because it's easy to follow, though I'm sure there are other ways as well.
     
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  3. outsider
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    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

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    Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is a good example of the approach @thirdwind suggested, although I'm sure there are many others.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are they not just clones, but raised together in the same environment? If not, I would expect that they'd be pretty different. (Compare Orphan Black's Helena with Alison--it would be hard to be more different than that.)

    Edited to add: I'm not saying that dialect, etc. is enough--you still probably want separate chapters or some other separation. But if all of the characters are identical not only genetically but in every way, I suspect that the reader may lose interest.
     
  5. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Keep the characters separated by different chapters and give them nicknames. So the chapter title could be "Chapter Nineteen: Buddy". That's the only way I could see the clone idea working.
     
  6. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the suggestions, but firstly, this is nothing like orphan black haha, they are clones, raised exactly the same way. There is nothing different about them. Secondly, I like the different chapter ideas, but I already use my chapters to separate a completely different event in the story.

    Just a note, I think the mod that moved this thread completely missed my question... I did mark the thread as 'style' and not character development. I don't need help with developing characters... Yes it is first person, but in that case all threads relating to 1st person should be here?
    I'm looking for a general way of giving the reader clues there are different people in my story. Sorry if being under the character development banner has confused this!
     
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  7. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hm, so you want to convey an information ("there are n different narrators in this story") to your reader? Think about the different ways you convey informations to your reader in the first place.

    First, you have the physical level of the book - the book cover, the text format (shape, color). For example, the Neverending Story originaly used two font colors to distinguish between two story "worlds" - in some editions, these were changed to normal and italic fonts, etc. The "reader" doesn't even need to be literate to understand information on this level.

    Then, you have the "formal" level of textual structure - division of chapters, paragraphs, inclusion of chapter titles, footnotes, etc. In more conservative writing this may even include the strict adherence to 3/4/5-act structure. The reader needs to be literate, but doesn't actually need to do much reading to get it on this level.

    Then, you have the actual narrative structure, with as many diegetic levels as the reader can decipher (which goes both ways: it depends both on the reader's ability to comprehend, and the writer's ability to convey information=write!). In the case of your identical clones, this is of course what each of them presents as "his story" to the reader. Whether their narratives include completely unique events, or they present different views of the same event, whether they share the same protagonists and focal (point-of-view) characters, the reader with enough understanding of the text will decipher these as separate narratives presented by different narrators. Again, this depends on the level of literacy on both sides - the writer could include all manner of intertextual reference, for example, but the reader would need to be on the same level of understanding in order to "get it".

    And, somewhere in between these diegetical levels you have the actual language - including any dialects, slang, etc that the narrator might use. Take Queneau's Zazie written in colloquial French of late 1950s, that is hard to comprehend by modern-speaking francophones. Or, take the 1984's Newspeak, that serve to distinguish teh narrator of that book from a contemporary English reader (as well as doing great job in world-building).

    In your case (n narrators that are identical clones with identical backgrounds, identical usage of language, etc) there are still many ways to diegetically distinguish between them (not to mention the fact that it is almost mandatory to do so even if you separate them by chapters and colors etc - for the sake of the reader!). Remember that even the most identical of twins would react differently in same situations. You may have clones, but they are still humans - treat them as humans, and develop their narrative voices from that point. In the first chapters, they may all sound the same (indicating they are, well, the "same"). But as the story develops, so should their actions, views, understanding, emotional reactions, etc. It depends, of course, on what kind of story you are trying to tell: a more "humane" one could go in that direction, showing individuality as well as universality of human state. A more cynical story could go the opposite direction, showing how little individuality means, or how basically little significance it makes on a more global scale, etc, etc
     
  8. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Haven't seen this done, but I'd highly suggest separate chapters for each character, then make the name of the character be the chapter title like in Shiver. But then if each clone has the same name... maybe simply say "Name: Clone 1" and so on.
     
  9. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Thank you Burlbird, this is the most on-point, and what you are suggesting is very much the stage I'm at. Being a graphic designer, my book was always going to have a strong typographic element, but I was worried that switching typefaces for each character may come across a little bit tacky. I currently separate the characters (there are 4 clones to begin with, half way through the book there is a 5th by the way) by paragraphs, and by events (for example one of the clones rarely leaves his house - so his environment is almost always the same). Chapters are out of the question, as they mark a much more vital event in my book, which echoes the books title and concept. I've never been a big fan of footnotes, especially in 1st person, I don't think people experience footnotes in real life. As well as the clones, I do have another narrator, much like 1984s newspeak, so I don't want to muddle this style with the other clones. And as a final note, my book is very much a cynical story, but finds a humanity element towards the end.

    I've thought quite a lot about how to make the clones idea work, and I was curious to see if I had missed anything that other members could suggest, however, what I may be tempted to do is to give the book for review in one typeface and see how the reader gets on. If there is confusion, I may have to review my writing or go with the typeface option. It may be that it works better as a play than a book.
    I'd still love to hear anymore thoughts on the subject. Thank you.
     
  10. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Another book to check out is Witch and Wizard by James Patterson. It focus on two characters with their own characters.
     

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