Three Ways to Kill Off Your First-Person Narrator (without Ending the Story)


If you’re consistently afraid your ideas aren’t original, in all honesty, they aren’t. Every basic storyline you can probably think of has already been written. One of the most challenging, but often the most fun and stimulating, parts of writing is taking a story everyone has read before and reshaping it enough to make it new, exciting and (almost) original.

We don’t see first-person narrators die all too often, and when we do, we usually get some version of The Lovely Bones I’m-dead-but-not-dead-enough-not-to-narrate scenario. If you want to play around with something a little more challenging, and try to make it your own, kill off your first-person narrator—but don’t end the story there. Here are some strategies you can try.

Switch to a new perspective

Sometimes we do see a prologue or a first chapter in a first-person narrator’s perspective before it switches over to the actual main character, but you don’t have to do it this way. One way to draw a reader into your out-of-the-box technique is to allow them to get to know your first person narrator before they, ahem, cease to exist.

You could potentially try to fill half of your story with accounts from one first-person narrator before permanently switching to a different narrator’s POV to finish out. Plot twist! Bet they won’t see that coming. 

Take the reader back in time

Playing with a plot’s chronological order is another method some writers use to keep a reader turning pages. This is one way to keep a story going even though, at some point—probably toward the beginning in this case—you reveal the storyteller is no longer alive, and therefore, more realistically, unable to continue storytelling.

Jump back-and-forth between the point they’re killed off and the events leading up to it. There’s no “I should have known then,” here, so you’re also giving the reader more of an opportunity to infer and scream “NO DON’T GO INTO THE KITCHEN” at the pages.

Bring them back to life 

Okay, this one’s a little iffy, but if you really want to try it, you can make it work with some effort. Jodi Picoult did (spoiler alert). Hey, it worked in the Bible, didn’t it? You don’t have to get fancy—there doesn’t have to be a medical explanation or even a team of people trying to figure out how a dead heart started beating again.

Don’t go into the supernatural if that’s not your intention. Maybe they were only dead for a few minutes and came back, but it feels like they missed out on years. Maybe your angle is to make the reader think your narrator is dead, even though she isn’t.

In general, we’re almost obsessively interested in what happens when we die. As a writer, you’re free to play with the concept as much or as little as you want to. There are ways to take something that’s already been done before and twist it around until it resembles something newer. If you have an unpredictable storyline, strong characters and tap into pathos like a boss, you’ll be fine.

Your narrator might not be … but that’s a sacrifice you’re probably willing to make.

Image courtesy of Kaitrosebd-Stock.