Multiple first person is one of the most difficult points of view you can use in a novel. You keep saying “I” and that makes you think of yourself as the same person while you write both first person stories. They can sound like the same person to your readers too. That’s not good. The first problem is that the first person narrator should not be you when you write fiction. After getting around that problem, you need a way to make sure that your two first person narrators are different variations of not you.
Let’s start with a bit about who the first person narrator really is.
The First Person “I” is Not You
Unless you’re writing an auto-biographical story, the person telling the story is not you. The narrator is as fictional as the story. If you only have one first person viewpoint in your story, you could use your own views and get away with it. That will limit you as a writer.
Maybe you have one way of understanding the world that you are absolutely certain is true. All other views are wrong. The characters who agree with your views are right and good. The characters who disagree are wrong and evil. That’s not how people really work. You must be able to create believable characters who don’t hold your views. Everyone believes they are good. Even the most horrible people think they are doing good by damaging or destroying enemies of themselves or their groups (culture, sub-culture, club, clique, etc).
A good first person narrator has their own view of the world. That’s part of what drives your story. What motivates your narrator?
First and Third Person are Not That Far Apart
The difference between first and third person is whether the narrator participates in the story. It’s about levels of participation. First person is active in the tale. Third person is like a fly on the wall. Third person omniscient is like a fly on every wall everywhere.
Where Can You Find First Person Narrators?
The best sources of inspiration come from within. You are not the same person now as you were ten years ago. Experience changes your beliefs and that changes you. Can you remember how you looked at the world in your earlier “lives”? You saw the world differently as a child, teen, and young adult. If you’ve had some significantly different jobs, you saw the world differently through each of those as well. Look at how your life and views have changed over time. That’s the easiest place to start when learning to create fictional narrators.
After you get good at creating imaginary selves based on your own past, you can take it further and create them for the opposite of your past selves. This is where the evil you comes into play.
Who is the Evil You?
You know the answer to this. It’s the you that comes out when people or circumstances push you over the edge. You meet too many bad drivers and feel the emotions and negative thoughts of road rage. Someone at a social gathering is deliberately pushing your buttons. Your company lays off a third of the work force and the remaining employees, including you, get a 50% increase in work without an increase in pay. These kind of things all trigger temporary anti-social personality traits that (I hope) you don’t act on.
Take those emotions further and imagine how you would act in those situations if you were that kind of person. Now imagine if you were in that state of mind all the time. There are people like that. High strung sons of bitches. You can be that bad person for your negative first person viewpoint.
When you need two first person narrators for a story, one can be a normal personality like you worked on earlier and the other a negative like the evil you.
While it may seem logical for the positive narrator to be the protagonist and the negative narrator to be the antagonist, consider reversing that. In real life, sometimes it’s negative people who get the job done while the happy satisfied people stay in their ruts refusing to change and causing trouble for everyone around them.
Do You Need to Create Every First Person Narrator From Scratch?
Need is a strong word. When you write in first person, you’re basically acting. Not everyone is great at that. There is a solution. Re-use the narrators you’ve used before but change them. Make them a different age, with different habits, different friends and relationships, and working at a different job. Some readers will notice the similar personalities, but the changes in their environments will make them different people.
However you choose to go about it, you need to be sure your first person narrators don’t sound like the same person. Your readers will either hate your fiction or assume that both narrators are the same person.
You’ve seen my short stories. Have I nailed it or do I need more practice creating narrators myself?