Split Narratives: Dividing Your Story Between Two or More Narrators

17 Jan 2022 | Fiction

This post was originally published in June 2015 and updated in January 2022.

There are several perfectly good ways to structure a story in terms of viewpoint, but (probably) the more common ones are:

  • A single first-person narrator, as in Florence and Giles or 600 Hours of Edward.
  • A main third-person narrator plus occasional omniscient narration, as in Harry Potter.
  • Several third-person narrators, as in The Song of Ice and Fire series, some getting considerably more “screen time” than others.

A slightly more unusual choice is to use two (or more) first person narrators. Here are a few examples:

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris – the narrative is divided between two first-person narrators; the identity of one of these is concealed, though hinted at.

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness – a particularly interesting one as the first book has one first-person narrator, the second book has two, and the third book has three.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett with three first-person narrators, Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter, all with a different voice.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – with two first-person narrators, their narratives combining to give two sides of the story.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – this one is much less of a “split” narrative as it has one main narrator (Lou) and occasional brief chapters from other first-person narrators (Treena, Camilla Traynor, and Nathan) as well as a third-person prologue

Those are all first person examples. Of course there are plenty of third-person narratives split between multiple viewpoint characters, too, but these often use the omniscient viewpoint or follow some characters a lot more than others. A good third-person example that works in a similar way to the first person ones above is my friend Nick Bryan’s Hobson & Choi series, where the third-person limited viewpoint switches back and forth between the two titular characters.

Why Structure Your Story This Way?

As a reader, I enjoy strongly-voiced first person narratives, though they can sometimes take a bit of getting into. (If you’re after unusual/strong narrative voices, with a single narrator, try Room, The Observations, or 600 Hours of Edward.)

One key advantage of a dual or triple perspective is that it offers variety and contrast: it can balance out a strange or unhinged narrator with a more conventional one, or it can allow two flawed narratives to complement one another.

It seems to lend itself particularly to novels involving a core mystery, as it allows the author to conceal information without relying solely on the device of an unreliable narrator: Gentlemen & Players does this cleverly.

A split narrative also allows both sides of a story to be told: particularly handy if the author is seeking to explore issues like the lies we tell ourselves (and others), or the ways in which events are inevitably filtered through our experiences, our pasts, our moods. Gone Girl does this by splitting the narrative between Nick and Amy, two partners in a strained marriage.

It’s obviously not going to be the perfect narrative choice for every story, but if you’ve got a novel (or short story) that has two or even three main character rather than a single protagonist, it could well be the best way forward.

Making Your Split Narrative Work

Whether you’re splitting the narrative between first-person or third-person narrators, there are a couple of key things you need to do in order to make it work – i.e. to make it a good reading experience, one that couldn’t be easily, or even better, delivered by a different narrative structure.

1. Give the Narrators an Equal Amount of “Screen Time”

While you don’t need to divide the book so that two narrators get precisely 50% of the word count, or three narrators get 33% each, it could be tricky to pull off a book with one first person narrator and occasional interjections from another.

(If you do want that, something involving diaries or letters might work for bringing in the additional voice – or a framing narrative where one narrator only appears at the beginning and end of the novel.)

Generally, with two narrators, it makes sense to alternate back-and-forth between viewpoints – I think other structures, like having half the book from one perspective and half from another, would be very tricky to pull off.

2. Make the Stories Intersect

Split narratives don’t work so well when the narrators aren’t in the same place and their storylines aren’t sufficiently impinging on one another. As a reader, I often find myself much more invested in one character’s story than another (maybe it’s more exciting, maybe I just prefer that character) – and the other sections of the narrative drag.

If a split narrative is really going to work, the characters’ lives need to be bound up with one another. They don’t necessarily have to be in the same place or even narrating from the same time point within the story (take a look at the use of Amy’s diary entries in Gone Girl, for instance) for this to work.

For an example where – for me, at least – this wasn’t quite working, see the second book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Ask and the Answer, where Todd and Viola are apart for much of the book. They’re both bound up in the same larger-scale action of the plot, but the narratives feel disconnected.

If you’ve got a complex story to tell, with two or more protagonists (or a protagonist matched with a fairly sympathetic antagonist), then a split narrative could work very well. It’s also a good choice for mystery novels, or ones featuring an unreliable narrator – or even two unreliable narrators.

3. Develop Each Narrator’s Distinctive Voice

Having two first-person narrators is often useful in narrative terms, letting you share details that one person doesn’t know. But a large part of the enjoyment of two (or more) narrators, for both you and the reader, is giving them distinctively different voices and ways of looking at the world.

One of your narrators might be abrupt and cynical; the other might be cheerful and find the positives in life. Giving your narrators different ways of telling the story makes your book more interesting and engaging. It can also be a great way to show a character who rarely says what they truly think or who’s hiding important parts of themself from the world around them.


Splitting your narrative between two first-person narrators isn’t a choice to take lightly. It’s more complex than having a single first-person narrator and it won’t necessarily work in every genre: most romance, for instance, is told from the female character’s point of view. But for the right book, a split narrative could make your story much more engaging and memorable.

If you’re interested in using this technique, why not try it out in a short story? You won’t be committing so much time as you would for a full novel, plus you’ll get a hands-on insight into what works well (and what might be trickier) with this type of narrative.


I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.

Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.

My Novels

My contemporary fantasy trilogy is available from Amazon. The books follow on from one another, so read Lycopolis first.

You can buy them all from Amazon, or read them FREE in Kindle Unlimited.


  1. Margaret Pinard

    Oh, such a needed post! I had too many POVs in my current work, and tried to make things clearer by consolidating to two, but it doesn’t seem right to leave out one of the other character’s experiences… I’m thinking about what expectations for the genre would be (historical drama, Scotland, 1822), and how much I want that to influence my choice as well… it’s a boondoggle!
    Margaret Pinard’s last blog post ..From the Travels: Green Growing Things, England Edition

    • Ali

      POV choices can be so tricky. Sometimes they seem inevitable and the POV decision is just tied up with the core idea for the story … but more often (for me, at least!) they take considerable thought and experimentation.

      Excellent point about genre conventions. I’d find it odd to read a split-narrative romance novel (not that I read much romance!) for instance, since they’re normally told from the heroine’s POV alone. Though E.L. James may be set to change that with *Grey*…

  2. Abbey-Rose

    Thanks for the great post! This is really useful as I’ve got two POV in my current project, my first novel 😋 only I’m worried now – I have one first person and one third person, given around equal ‘screen time’. Can this work? Has anyone else done it and if so, how fid it turn out?
    I chose to do it because it represents aspects if the character, for instance the first person character is much more open emotionally, and needs to discuss her feelings and thoughts with the reader, whereas the third person character is more isolated, and spends most of the time thinking without acting or speaking, a bit of a brooder I suppose.
    What does everyone think? Is it sensible to change or stick with it? 😁

    • Lexi Revellian

      I’ve done this, in my novel ‘Replica’. It’s about a young woman working in a government research laboratory, who is replicated without her knowledge in a flawed experiment. The replica, a mistake who will be disposed of, goes on the run. Alternating chapters are written in first and third person; first person for replica Beth, third for original Beth and the other characters.

      The advantage is that no reader has ever got confused about which Beth is which – and going by the reviews, most people don’t particularly notice the first/third changes. Interestingly,they do seem to identify more with the first person Beth.
      Lexi Revellian’s last blog post ..READERS in the KNOW – Replica podcast

      • Ali

        I’m sure this can work, Abbey-Rose — I know one of my writer friends is working on a novel with a first/third split at present.

        I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head that I’ve read which have first/third (slightly addled today by teething baby!) but it’s definitely a possibility. I’d be happy to put together a post on it, or to see if I can rope in another author to do so, if you’re interested?

        Lexi, that sounds like a fascinating way to keep the two characters straight. I’ve read novels with a similar premise (one involved a past and future version of the same character, split by timetravel) that got really confusing. Did you experiment with any other ways of doing it, or did that choice just seem to fit right from the start?

      • Emma

        Sounds a little like Keanu Reeves’ Replicas, where the character he plays replicates his family after he loses them in a tragic accident. Have you seen it? (I found the movie entertaining and amusing, if not particularly impressive…but I was happy with it.)
        Emma’s last blog post ..Black Holes: What the Movies Get Wrong

  3. Lexi Revellian

    Goodness, time travel (which incidentally my WIP is) is confusing enough without adding a first/third person split!

    I think the idea of doing it in ‘Replica’ came to me quite early while writing notes, and I realized I needed a way of differentiating between two versions of the same young woman. The only problem was keeping their timelines roughly in sync as they had alternating chapters, and sometimes more happened to one than the other.

    Ah, babies – a new challenge at every stage until they leave home :o)
    Lexi Revellian’s last blog post ..READERS in the KNOW – Replica podcast

    • Ali

      I always seem to have trouble with timelines (even with the most straightforward of novels) — I keep meaning to keep everything straight in a spreadsheet and never quite manage it!

  4. Abbey-Rose

    Margaret, I’d love to swap but I’m still kind of drafting and rewriting atm 😋 just yesterday I thought of a new section at the beginning, and had a rethink about some of the major plot points, so I don’t think anything I’ve got will make sense anymore 😁 also I’ve never shown anyone my writing; its a hurdle I’m yet to jump (excuses, excuses), but I’d love to see how you’ve done the first/third switch.
    Ali, that would be amazing, if you have the time, I’m sure its difficult with the little one (congratulations, by the way! 😤).
    Lexi, that sounds really interesting, and a perfect way of using two different POV. I’m not surprised people didn’t really notice the change; if you’re engrossed in a story with several characters you don’t really pay attention to hims and hers. Its worse to write it. Reading a section back and realising you’ve slipped into the wrong one lol 😖

  5. Allison

    My novel I’m working on, actually, has five narrators, whom switch off every chapter. They’re generally in the same area during the whole story,
    Three are in first person, two in third person – Abbey-Rose, it works well for me. Never did think of it the same way with representing the different aspects, as this is kind of an experimental novel, mostly written impulsively during NaNoWriMo. It’s really fun so far, and lets me go through differing events or do a timeskip very easily from one chapter to the next.
    Each of the characters have a different perspective on the antagonist too, one of which is actually working with them, so I can get down the goals of the antagonist without it seems forced because its being relayed to that character.
    Been hitting all these points without even realizing it 😀

  6. Abbey-Rose

    That sounds interesting Allison. One of my characters is close to the antagonist as well whereas the others are in the dark somewhat – this has helped me resist using an antagonist POV, which I considered when his backstory ran away with me 😋 instead I’ve turned that into an idea for a short story.

    Thanks to everyone for all the help and making us newbies feel so welcome. I’m not very good at this social media stuff but I’ve been informed that I’ll need to be 😁

    • Ali

      I’m pretty sure we’re all still learning social media as we go along … I know I am! And I’m thrilled that the lovely writers who comment here on Aliventures are always thoughtful and supportive, and add so much extra useful information and depth to my posts.

      Allison, this is the one I read excerpts from a while back, right? Really looking forward to seeing the finished thing. 🙂

  7. Tom Southern

    Hi Ali, welcome back! I’m probably a bit behind the times but Welcome!

    I’ve not thought of writing two narratives. One’s enough for me. I’m not sure I’ve read any novels with more either, although, would you count Wuthering Heights as a two person narrative?

    The kind of novels I like are when they’re told by unreliable narrators. You know, this is how it was – but then, as the story unfolds, you discover that’s not really how it was. My narrator in the novel I’m writing is like this. Also, I’m thinking of getting this narrator to tell her story from two ends of her life, 8 year old child and 80 + year old woman. Would you class that as a two-person narrative, of sorts? Or split narrative?

    I did consider two different characters telling the story but then, I didn’t want the character who’s narrating now to be found out. At least, not without, explaining herself. Is that weird? 🙂

    • Ali

      Thanks Tom! I’d think of Wuthering Heights more as a novel with a framing narrative, personally, since Lockwood’s narrative starts and ends the book.

      I think you’d really enjoy Gone Girl — unreliable narrator action in spades! On balance, I like unreliable narrators — I’m not sure I’d want to read them all the time, though. Taxes my poor brain!

      That’s a really interesting one with the child and elderly woman. Have you read Ian McEwan’s Atonement? That has a degree of this going on (I won’t say more and spoil it, if you’ve not read it).

      I’m sure all sorts of things we do as writers are weird. 😉 It sounds like you’ve thought through how best to make your narrative structure and choices work with the story you want to tell. Hope the writing goes smoothly! How far through the novel are you?

  8. Tom Southern

    Thanks Ali. This is really helpful to me for getting a handle on different types of narration. I shall give Gone Girl a look. Yes, I have read Atonement. It’sa brilliant book. I have to say I got the idea for my novel before I read it :). Someone heard what I was planning and recommended I read Atonement. I’d love a film version! I think though as it’s taking shape and your explanation, it’s going to be a framing narrative. Thanks.

    • Ali

      Sounds like a framing narrative will be a good fit for you — hope it goes smoothly!

      You’re in luck: there is a film version of Atonement (though I’ve not seen it myself) — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_(film)

  9. Junior Wright

    Hi, my new is Ricky wright, I would like to have your expertise on writing, I’m failing on this point of my GED, they gave two story they are similar, I have to write from both story, and combine them in one, I would love your help, thank you, sincerely mr.wright.

    • Ali

      That sounds like a tough task, Ricky! I’m afraid I can’t help with homework etc (I get too many requests) but I wish you all the best with it.

  10. Nina

    Dear Ali,

    I am a middle school teacher in Minnesota. Could you suggest some young adult novels for teenage boys? Also, how can I explain that some books have two protagonists in a simple manner to my students? They are baffled when there are two protagonists. They often think one of them has to be the antagonist.

    Please respond when you can. I really enjoy your blog.

    • Ali

      I don’t read much YA, but you could try the Chaos Walking trilogy, which I enjoyed. The Knife of Never Letting Go has one viewpoint character (Todd), but the second book, The Ask and the Answer, is told from both Todd and Viola’s perspectives, essentially making both of them protagonists (they’re also separated from one another, so they’re both progressing the action differently).

      Could you relate the protagonists thing to films they might have seen that have essentially an ensemble cast of heroes? (E.g. Avengers, the Star Wars films.) There are often several “goodies” who we root for and who drive the action, but they are distinct people with different personalities and possibly different goals.

  11. Alan Kern

    I’ve written a novel that uses two narrators. Narrator one, a female, tells the bulk of the story, mostly in third-person, but sometimes in first-person and occasionally becomes an unseen character in the story, and sometimes becomes unreliable by taking unauthorized breaks. Narrator two (male) has to pickup the story when narrator one drops the ball, and revels humorous reasons why she keeps exiting the story. Narrator two is always third-person. Both narrators are omnipotent. There is even a time when the two cross swords with each. In the end, there’s a possible romance developing between them.
    It was great fun, but some say it’s confusing. You think?

    • Ali

      I have to confess that my first reaction is yes, that sounds confusing! But it really depends on how smoothly you’ve executed it. If it’s a comic novel (sounds like it is), then the unusual form could well be working in its favour.

      If possible, I’d suggest finding a few people willing to read the whole thing — or at least a substantial chunk of it — so they can give you some feedback on whether it’s quite working how you want.

  12. Katrina Baldwin Gallegos

    I’m struggling with this as I wrote a story about an addict in 2 different voices- her real story in 3rd person because she’s detached & the addiction story in 1st. But the literary agent said it didn’t work. So now I’m wondering if I put them both in 1st.

    • Ali

      Ooh, that’s an interesting case — so a story within a story? I could envisage it working, but if the agent feels it’s not quite coming together, you might try rewriting a shortish passage in 1st and see how that feels. Is there some different way you can convey that sense of detachment?

  13. Emma

    I’m currently writing a fairly complex third person split narrative. I have one main protagonist, but since the story doesn’t hinge just on her and instead involves a much broader external problem across multiple planets with lots of worldbuilding and different perspectives, I have POV chapters from 6 other secondary characters. 2 of these secondary characters are actually going to be the central POV in the first two sequels, with the villain of the first sequel becoming the central POV of the 4th book. And I haven’t quite decided what POV to do for the 5th book. Right now the concept has a more omniscient feel in my head, but planning for that is a long ways off. My current strategy of organization is to tell the story chronologically, from whatever POV fits the best (and is the most vivid/interesting) for the moment. And while my novel is divided into hard scene breaks as well as chapters, I make sure each chapter only has scenes from one POV. That’s worked so far for the pacing of my story, in fact it’s solved a few problems I had in earlier drafts. From what you wrote above, it doesn’t sound like my storytelling format is particularly, shall we say, orthodox, but it seems to be working.
    Emma’s last blog post ..Black Holes: What the Movies Get Wrong

    • Ali

      Oh, that sounds really cool! I think chronological is a very sensible choice when you have multiple narrators. Like you, I like having one POV per chapter: it definitely makes it easier when writing, and I figure it makes life easier for readers, too. Good luck with the series. 🙂

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