Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Multiple Stories within Stories and Perspective

you know those movies or TV shows where a segment starts well into a story’s middle or near the end, and a character begins telling the story to another, and the film switches back in time? The narration is framed as coming from the character, but we are seeing it. The Usual Suspects and Titanic are like this.

I wish to do this, but in writing form I have to worry about things like perspective - first person? Third? To use the analogy above, in those movies the camera can often follow a different character even when they’re apart from the main character, so it’s not as though the storyteller can tell all those parts and still be the narrator.

I have a story where a group of characters are sitting around telling stories, in this case personal stories.

Each instance, the narrative jumps from “sitting around the table” to “Character x in situation Y”.

My question is, how should I do all the singular stories as 1st person? Third? Does it need to be tight on the character telling the story or could it shift to say, third person in another character’s head, etc? If I decide 1st for one story, do I need to have 1st for all of them?

One reason I ask is that, for one of the stories, I don’t want to be in that character’s head. But shifting perspective might be confusing.

Edit: I realize that my question might be a little confusing in terms of who does what when, so I’ll break it down like thus:

Eddie, Simon and Dan are sitting around a campfire telling stories (lets call this Campfire). Eddie tells a story of how he sold a taco to a ghost (we’ll call The Taco Ghost). Simon tells a story of how Simon and Jennifer managed to tickle a ghost (called Ghost Tickles).

The story’s progression is: Campfire - The Taco Ghost - Campfire - Ghost Tickles - Campfire.

  1. Campfire is third person, but not tight to any one character. Should The Taco Ghost and Ghost Tickle also be third person? Would it be too jarring/odd for one be first person and one be third?

  2. Ghost Tickle is about Simon and Jennifer. Since Simon is the one telling the story in the overall narrative, must it be first person or third person tight to Simon? Would it be too jarring/odd to be either from Jennifer’s perspective, or third person but not necessarily focused on any one character?

That’s a good one. I took a risk and played with perspective in my Trick or Treat piece because I wanted to have periods of just the camera being a bit to slow to keep up with the protagonist.

One of the pieces I plan on returning to is a multiple perspectives. My original plan was to have a third person introduction and conclusion, and then the “body” follows the three main characters in first person. Originally, the story was going to be all the same time period, so each perspective switch would feature shared scenes from different perspectives. I will see what I think when I can get back to working on the piece.

As for your situation Rechan, what about working perspective quirks into the storytellers’ personalities, which could extend to use unreliable narrators (because I love unreliable narrators).

Heinlein’s novel “The Number of the Beast”, while not IMO one of his better works, uses an interesting technique. While the book is written in first-person, each chapter is from one of the four main character’s point of view. (One very late chapter is from a fifth, very pleasantly-surprising point of view.) While the rotation between characters is irregular (not always in the same order), all of them get a turn regularly enough that they remain fresh in the mind.

There are probably other books written this way, but so far this is the only one I’ve come across. It’s a very cool approach to the multiple POV problem, and I’d probably give it a try myself if I were a better writer.

Switching between third and first person can be very effective. In this instance I’d tell the ghost stories in first person, to make them scarier, and have the campfire scenes in third person.

Iain Banks’s Complicity switches from first person to second person, where the second person narrator is an unknown character. It adds a very weird and menacing aura to those sections.

James Patterson uses this technique a lot and it makes for great audiobooks when they switch narrators.

I’ve seen it used badly once, in Christine. The block of initial narration was just so long that when King did switch from one voice to another, it hurt my little head. Not as much as the stupid pun last line, but still… hurt head.