on Jane Friedman site:
I read a book recently that will remain unnamed. The book was entertaining, and at its core was a pretty darned good mystery with some fantastic twists that made the ending a payoff for the ages. I enjoyed it from start to finish.
But I just couldn’t shake some negative feelings about the narration. This particular book, you see, was entirely first-person narration (“I did this, I did that, I thought this,” etc.) with a crucial tweak: multiple narrators. This meant each chapter had a different character telling a different scene in the story. In this case of this book, all the narrators were suspects in a murder. And as the clues fell into place, it became clear that every one of the narrators was keeping secrets … and could ultimately be the murderer.
But here’s the thing that kept bugging me: all the narrators sounded pretty identical. They didn’t have enough flavor to distinguish themselves, so I found myself continually flipping back to the beginning of the chapter to ensure I was imagining the right person telling the story in my head. That lack of distinct “voice” caused the multiple narrators to mix together.
There’s nothing wrong with this book, just like there’s nothing wrong with using multiple narrators in a first-person story. But—and I think this is a big but—you need to ensure their voices are distinct. This isn’t easy. It requires a lot of practice. It requires an intricate understanding of narration. And it requires some serious background work.
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