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Writing Books/First novel and I need some help


I'm no writing newcomer. I've been writing plays and other material to be performed for my entire adult life since I left college. But I'm tackling a novel for the first time. I'm working on plotting and writing the first few chapters sort of as I go.

This is a story that's very much inside the head of my protagonist. It's certainly going to be first person narration. My question is this: how do I handle showing scenes where the main character isn't in the scene? My first major turning point in the story is where my narrator's wife answers a phone call intended for the narrator with a major bit of news that affects him for the rest of the story (news of a relative's death.) I want to show her reaction as well as her conflict with how she's going tell her husband. This isn't the only time I want to do this but this is the one that has me flummoxed at the moment.

How do I do something like this without getting into a "show don't tell" type of situation? Because I can't help but think that 1st person means the narrator has to be in every scene which can't be true.

Can you shed some light on this for me?

Hello Ryan:

Your question is a good one. If you are totally committed to 1st Person you are indeed limited to what your Protagonist (X) sees, thinks and feels. But X also also hears, and this is one way around that limitation. X might listen to another character telling what happened or what they believe happened, or what someone else told them happened. Sometimes it turns out that what another character heard about or saw being done isn't all that valuable to the story. If it is critically important, then the reader will surely want to be there, to experience it with X. In that case, it's better to find a way to locate X there.

If it's not that important, it will be enough for X to hear about it. If it's well told, X might even get lost in the story and all but live it personally. Best, however, to be brief here. Only the salient facts, ma'm.

So you see, it all depends on two things: the amount of tension involved (drama), and the desires of the reader (always paramount).

Another possibility is for X to see the whole thing in a dream, but dream sequences, unless expertly handled, are frowned upon as the mark of a lazy writer.

There seems to be a dearth of information on this subject. Too bad, because a lot of writers struggle with point-of-view issues.

I hope this has helped. If it has, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high scores over 950+ questions.

And thank you for writing!

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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