Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face has four narrators, all of which live in the same building, but only three of which know each other. The fourth narrator, Wonna’s story only really crosses with the other three’s at the book’s end, though they all relate to each other thematically. In Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock, the narrators all live in different time periods, so each of their stories feels somewhat separate from each other. Other books, like Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows have a variety of narrators who interact with each other regularly. Clearly, there are many ways one can set up a novel in regards to narrators, but how do you decide how many you want, or what their relationship to each other is?
Writer’s Digest’s Creating Characters has a section by Nancy Kress that states that, most of the time, you should only have as many narrators as are absolutely necessary, which feels limiting to me. I, personally, am the type of writer who grows bored of sticking to just one perspective and jumps around to whichever character I happen to feel like writing (my record is seven). I believe Creating Characters’s reason for avoiding narrators is to make books less convoluted, and easier for the reader to understand, which is a great reason to have, and this advice probably works in many situations. However, I feel like having a convoluted book isn’t necessarily something that’s wrong. You’re supposed to strip your book of unnecessary components, but what’s wrong with unnecessary components? Maybe sometimes I like books to quickly get to the point (such as when I am reading for school and want to be done), but I feel like for books that I love, I wouldn’t mind staying longer and learning more about the world and the characters, even if it doesn’t pertain to the main plot.
I think having multiple perspectives is a bit like how television episodes work. Sometimes episodes alternate between the activities of different groups of characters, advancing the storyline in a variety of different ways. Sometimes an episode will take a side character and place them in the spotlight for a time. Why not write books in a similar manner? At least, that’s how I justify using so many perspectives.
Could Cha have written Wonna out of her book and still produce something noteworthy? Perhaps. But by existing in the story, Wonna changes it, adds something new, influences the reader in new ways. The author that wrote this advice produced something, but in the hands of new characters, of a broader outlook, it could have been something else (which is not to say which would be preferable. I have never read this person’s work in my life). Every author has a new way of looking at the world, even if it’s just subtly different, so why shouldn’t they also have new ways of structuring their narratives? Perhaps the answer to how you decide your narrators is just “however you want” which, if you’re looking for exact answers, really isn’t helpful, but it is fairly freeing.
Since I don’t seem to have any answers, here are some questions I have about the topic:
– Isn’t omnipotent really just having every character being a narrator? Why would first or third person be any different? Because they don’t switch as fast?
– What is the purpose of a book? To get to know the characters and world or to make it through the plot as smoothly as possible?
– What does “unnecessary” mean when it comes to a book’s contents?
There you are. Now you can join me and feel confused as well. (Maybe the reason I have yet to come anywhere close to publishing a book is that I dedicate too much time to asking these questions). If you want clear advice, then only use as many narrators as are necessary. It seems like a nice, neat way to write that probably works incredibly well for many people. I’m not trying to say it isn’t, just that it might not work always, that however many narrators a book has might be the number it needs to match your vision, to become the book you want it to be, not the streamlined version of somebody else.