What’s It Like Writing With Two Narrators? by Susin Nielsen
Ashley was more challenging. I knew she needed to be, in many ways, the polar opposite of Stewart. I knew she would be much more self-centered, socially gifted, academically not so much. It wasn’t until I’d been playing with her opening chapter for a while that I had a revelation: I had met her before. She had been a secondary character in one of my earlier books, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. In that novel, she had been little more than the stereotypical mean girl. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to dig in, and dig deeper, into that character.
So – as you can tell from their micro-descriptions – I rather intentionally started out with two characters who, at first glance, could be perceived as stereotypes; then, chapter by chapter, started stripping back their layers.
I loved writing Stewart because he is just such a decent human being. But I loved writing Ashley, too. Beyond having fun with her malapropisms, I had a lot of sympathy for her. Most readers seem to warm to her; I’ve had a few people tell me they couldn’t stand her. If I’m “totally one hundred percent honest,” to use Ashley’s phrase, maybe I have sympathy for her because I remember being her in so many ways. She is in that teenage girl swirl of hormones and insecurity, and it results in some really crap behavior. Um … been there, done that …
From a technical perspective, writing two narrators was a unique challenge. On the plus side, I really only had to write half a length of a book for each of them. :) The challenges were making sure I kept the story propelling forward every step of the way. I tried hard not to have too much repeat information, unless it was crucial to get it from both perspectives, in which case I’d try to tell it from a different entry-point into the scene.
I also had to be very careful to make their voices entirely distinct. Thank goodness for my great editors, because they found a few slips, where I had given certain expressions to both of my narrators.
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