Dual Perspectives: Are Two Heads Better Than One?

Most books are written with just one perspective in mind, one singular perspective that serves as the audience’s access to the world of the narrative. However, this is not a template that has to be followed, and in fact authors often like to subvert this, with multiple protagonists being at the centre of the story. One of the ways this can manifest is a technique of duelling perspectives, two different protagonists that are given equal weight within the narrative.

On the one hand, this can be a very good way to be help the reader gain more information within the narrative and gain a greater understanding of the world these characters inhabit. One of my favourite implementations of this is in the YA novel ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’, starring two boys with the same name, and both of the authors (John Green and David Levithan) took one of the protagonists each. However, the use of dual perspectives can also be both unnecessary and can take away from the main narrative. If both of the protagonists are written in the exact same way, it can be difficult to differentiate between them, leading to confusion about which character is the prominent one at that point of the story. Therefore, this writing style, whilst effective if used correctly, should be approached with caution

As I have stated, I have read some amazing books with this writing style, from books with the hero and villain both having perspectives within the story, and romance stories with both parts of the couple being the protagonist. I have also, however, read books with dual perspectives which has felt like only one of the characters is the actual protagonist, with the other character just feeling like a slightly upgraded supporting character. I prefer when both characters are active characters who have an effect on the plot, I do not like it when one of the characters is passive and simply reacts to the actions of their counterpart.

Here is what I often look for in terms of the use of dual perspectives within a story. This list of tips is not exhaustive, and is simply my opinion on what makes a good narrative with dual perspectives:

  1. Make Sure Both Perspectives are Necessary:
    The perspectives that we see the world of the narrative through is something that needs to feel necessary, we shouldn’t feel like we are seeing the story through the wrong character’s eyes. This is doubly difficult for using dual perspectives as this justification needs to apply to both characters. Simply ask yourself: if I removed perspective A or B, will something crucial to the narrative be lost? If the answer is no then maybe you do not need to use these dual perspectives.
  2. Make Both Perspectives Unique:
    This can be tricky, but can ultimately mean that the readers can easily slip between the duelling perspectives in the narrative. Playing around with language, grammar and sentence structure can do wonders in this regard, and can make it feel like you really are snapping from character to character. This is also something that can be tested asking yourself a question: could you identify easily which character’s perspective it is in a chapter/section without being told? Again, keep experimenting with this in order to see what works best for your narrative and characters.
  3. Have the Characters Have a Presence in Each Other’s Stories:
    As I stated before, I do prefer it if both of the characters are proactive and accel the plot along rather than just being affected by it. However, I also appreciate it when the two characters feel like they have an effect on each other, with the actions of one impacting the choices available to the other. This doesn’t have to be from the start of the narrative, but should be something that begins to happen more and throughout the narrative. It often helps justify that both these narratives are indeed intertwined and should share the same narrative, not two different narratives.

Overall, the use of dual narratives within a story could be something amazing and help enhance the narrative through giving more than one character’s actions/viewpoints in the narrative. It can also stop the only proactive character being the sole protagonist, and instead both of the protagonists must be of equal importance in the narrative in order to allow for them both to feel necessary. I want to stress that all I have stated in this blog post is personal preference on dual narratives, and I am sure there will be readers/writers who disagree with what I have said here. Overall, my biggest tip is to experiment and find what works for you, your story and your characters in terms of writing styles (beta-readers can also help you find this out), and try to find ways to make your story as gripping and engaging as possible.

– D

Hint of the Week:
Luring with pleas, bargains, and fury,
Only to appear in dreams, then hurry!
Away with the breaking of the bleak dawn.
Of Traces or Gifts left there are none

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