Writing with two or more main characters – who take turns narrating – can be tricky. I’ve only tried it once before, so in retrospect maybe I shouldn’t have made a split narrative novel the goal for this year’s NaNoWriMo. But everything’s been planned out, so off I go – unless I change my mind again. Of course, I’ve already switched novels three times, so I’m sticking with this one. Probably.
What are the problems with split narrative? Well, there’s really a list of things you should avoid, or attempt. First of all, make sure there’s a reason to have split narrative. If your characters are always in the same place, doing the same thing… why bother? Unless they have separate stories to tell – or very separate ways of telling the same story – keep the narrator count down to one.
Second, make the narrators different. Too often you can end up writing identical characters. Make sure your two (or more) narrators have different ways of acting, talking, and thinking. Otherwise it’ll get really boring really fast. For example, check out Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. An Austrian prince talks and thinks nowhere near the same as a British airman.
An exceptionally irritating part of split narrative is charting. Generally, you want to have the characters ‘talk’ for roughly the same amount of time. (Maybe, he gets a chapter, she gets a chapter, etc.). If you just start writing, which is what NaNo essentially asks for, you’ll run into problems. A scene might really need to be told by one character, but you just switched to the other three pages ago! You’ll probably end up with 10 pages of character 1, 3 pages of character 2, 8 pages of character 1, and so on. Mapping out the basic story, and making sure you have the narration where you want it, is essential.
I’m sure I’ll have more split narrative woes in November, when I actually start writing. Until then, I remain safely in the domain of a single voice.