Mixing writing perspectives

L.L.Lotte

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Hello all.

So I've started working on my epic fantasy novel and I would like to write it in 1st person perspective as I feel this gets me closer to the POV character. I've noticed that in 1st person, more personality shows through in my writing and that it gets a lot darker than when I write in 3rd. Darkness is good, considering that my novel will have horror elements to it.

The problem is: if I write 1st person, then that limits me to telling the entire story using the MC as the PoV. Past experience has shown me that people have difficulty following stories that have multiple characters all using 1st person. They get confused about which character is narrating.

I'm thinking that at some points in my story I might possibly need to write from the PoV of characters that are not the MC.

The way I see it, I've got three choices:

#1: Write the MC in 1st person and then every supporting PoV character as 3rd person.
#2: Work out a way to tell the entire story from the MC PoV in 1st person.
#3: Write the entire novel in 3rd person.

So what are people's opinions on the matter?

Would you be ok with reading a story that was mostly 1st person, but then the occasional chapter was 3rd instead? Or would you rather it stayed consistent throughout the entire story?
 

Jo Zebedee

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You can have multiple first person narratives. I’m working on a dual at the moment, The Time Traveller’s Wife is dual, Pittacus Lore uses about 6 first person narratives

You just need to be clear which perspective you are in. I am detailing that in the chapter heading, others use varying fonts
 

Ashleyne

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I've read a lot of James Patterson books that have the detecive POV in close 1st and the killer's POV in limited 3rd. It's never jarred me. As soon as I read the first line and it's not 1st person, I know it's the killer. It may be more confusing with more than two POVs.

I do prefer Jo's idea, though I've never read a multi POV 1st person story before.
 

L.L.Lotte

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You can have multiple first person narratives. I’m working on a dual at the moment, The Time Traveller’s Wife is dual, Pittacus Lore uses about 6 first person narratives

You just need to be clear which perspective you are in. I am detailing that in the chapter heading, others use varying fonts
6 first person? :eek: You really would have to pay attention to chapter titles then!

ok, well I guess I can give it another shot writing entirely in 1st and see how it goes. And I look forward to seeing how it goes with your work as well :)


Thanks Ashleyne, I've never read James Patterson, but its good to know there are actually authors out there who switch between them and have still been published.
 

HareBrain

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I'm not a fan of multiple first, but (as far as I can tell) that's because I have this quirk with first that I want to believe there's some plausible way I'm getting to know their story, e.g. they've written it down after the event (even if it's not made explicit). One person writing down their story for others to read later is fine, but several people involved in the same tale doing so seems pretty unlikely, especially if they're in more or less the same style. I once read a thriller that had tortuous "justifications" for multiple first -- the last POV, which the author had to include to provide an otherwise hidden piece of information, was a letter written by someone to his wife while he was on the train going home to her. And this was a prize-winning writer.

If the only reason you prefer first is because it gives your writing extra depth, you might consider (though it would be more work) writing it in first and then converting to third. I know some people use that as a technique for individual scenes.

Or just go with multi-first, since my objections to it aren't likely to be widely shared.
 

L.L.Lotte

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I'm not a fan of multiple first

...

If the only reason you prefer first is because it gives your writing extra depth, you might consider (though it would be more work) writing it in first and then converting to third. I know some people use that as a technique for individual scenes.

Or just go with multi-first, since my objections to it aren't likely to be widely shared.
I wouldn't sell yourself short, I'm sure there are more people who'd dislike it than you'd expect.

Honestly, I don't really feel comfortable with the idea of doing multiple first anyway.

Perhaps converting it might work, but just thinking about how much extra work that would be boggles the mind! :unsure:
I already spend enough time writing each scene as it is. I tend to go back over each scene many, many times before moving on to writing the next one.
 

HareBrain

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Perhaps converting it might work, but just thinking about how much extra work that would be boggles the mind!
You might try doing it with just a couple of scenes and seeing if you can apply the lessons (whatever they are) to writing straight into third.

This is assuming you don't have a strong instinct that first is the only thing that's right for the story. Sometimes that just happens -- the story or character seems to be crying out for a particular voice, and nothing else will feel right, in which case you're stuck with it and will just have to work around whatever issues arise.
 

Ursa major

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#1: Write the MC in 1st person and then every supporting PoV character as 3rd person.
#2: Work out a way to tell the entire story from the MC PoV in 1st person.
#3: Write the entire novel in 3rd person.
First of all, you've missed one option from that list, i.e. #4: Write it all in first person, but with multiple narrators.

I've just been reading the Old Man's War series, and the last book in the series has a number of 1st person narratives. I suppose this may be the result of the novel being published as a series of four novellas. (Note that, for instance, the narrator of one of the 1st person novellas appeared in a section of an earlier book, that time as a third person PoV character).

Second, you could also try #1 or #4 and, if you didn't like the result, convert the narratives to very close third person (sometimes described as a first person narrative that just happens to have third person verbs.) Obviously, as this would be quite a chore, and would risk introducing errors, it might be an idea to see if this change is what you think you need to do before you've written the whole book.

Note that there is no one best way to handle PoV in novels; it's what best suits the specific novel. For instance, I've read novels where some of the narrative (whole chapters and series of chapters, not just brief passages) is in the present tense and the rest of it in the past tense. In these cases, the author made it work. (In one example, where there was a huge diffrence in time between to its two parallel narratives -- near future and very far future -- the narrative set in the far future was written in the past tense and the one written in the near future was written in the present tense. And it worked.)
 

The Big Peat

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Snakewood by Adrian Selby has multiple 1st PoV narrators iirc. Its not common but it can be done - and I think what you lose in terms of some people disliking what you're doing, you probably win back in terms of people liking the unusual.

I'm not a fan of multiple first, but (as far as I can tell) that's because I have this quirk with first that I want to believe there's some plausible way I'm getting to know their story, e.g. they've written it down after the event (even if it's not made explicit). One person writing down their story for others to read later is fine, but several people involved in the same tale doing so seems pretty unlikely, especially if they're in more or less the same style. I once read a thriller that had tortuous "justifications" for multiple first -- the last POV, which the author had to include to provide an otherwise hidden piece of information, was a letter written by someone to his wife while he was on the train going home to her. And this was a prize-winning writer.

If the only reason you prefer first is because it gives your writing extra depth, you might consider (though it would be more work) writing it in first and then converting to third. I know some people use that as a technique for individual scenes.

Or just go with multi-first, since my objections to it aren't likely to be widely shared.
I'd state that even if this quirk was widely shared, it appears to be one of execution rather than form. The film Rashomon shows the same even from 4 different perspectives as part of a court case iirc; the aforementioned Snakewood has a narrator who collected it as history; I think some of the Redwall books also have that conceit too. I'm sure there's other alternatives.
 

mistri

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It's that old adage, isn't it, of as long as you do it well, you can almost do whatever you want.

Not sure that's always true but I've read a number of different ways of mixing up POV in novels and I think as long as you're consistent and the reader doesn't have to think too hard about who's voice they're listening to at any time, you should be good.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I think stories just suit certain povs. I’ve never written a novel in first before - although I use it in shorts a lot - let alone two. But both povs are important and linked and I didn’t want to elevate one over the other. Normally I’d switch to third in that instance but this one refuses to switch.

Anna Burns (won the Booker this year) calls her characters by titles, not names (so Older Sister, The Milkman) and says when she tried to give names the book wouldn’t work at all.
 

Biskit

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I've been writing a multiple 1st narrative with four POVs. So far, the feedback is that it works, and the four voices are sufficiently different for it to work. The two biggest challenges I find are firstly "voice drift" when I'm not paying enough attention and using the wrong style for a POV, and secondly the difficulty in writing a 19th century bad-girl, but I'm told that's working out OK.

I write a lot of 1st, so it didn't feel like an odd or awkward choice at the time, but then I went into just getting ideas down so didn't really care whether multiple 1st worked. The only point I really started questioning the approach was when I introduced the fourth POV, because it felt like she might be too much, and going ahead with that was very much an experiment. If a few more chapters with that fourth POV to handle hadn't worked, I would have dropped her. Now, I find it difficult to see the story working any other way.

One of the things I really like about the multiple 1st is that I can offer differing views about any one character, and from time to time, present the same scene from more than one point of view.

Since I didn't think about or plan any of this, it's probably complete accident that the four POVs are very different, but I think that's probably essential - I don't think this would work at all well if the POVs were too similar.

My main suggestion is try it, and if it's not working, try one of the alternatives.
 

tinkerdan

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I have GRRM's A Storm of Swords of the Song of Fire and Ice: it is the only one of his books I have read.
He uses third person and puts names of the narrators at the top of each chapter. It is superfluous to the extent that within the first two paragraphs its clear whose point of view it is.
I have mixed first and third in my books; however it could have as easily been all third with a really close third with the main character.
It really depends on what you want or need to have the reader know.
 

L.L.Lotte

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Thanks everyone for the replies.

So the answer is just do whatever you want and forget the naysayers. :p

Of course I jest about the naysayers, sometimes their naysaying helps. ;)
 

Teresa Edgerton

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The answer is to try different approaches and then do what seems to work the best for this story and these characters—at which point, yes, forget the naysayers. You can't please everyone, and trying to do so can drive you crazy.
 

Phyrebrat

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Echoing Teresa’s point. You have to do this your way so I’d ask myself ‘how do I want to write this?’ rather than how would most people do it.

I tripped myself up on my wip (now on rewrite version 4.5) which has changed from first to third but has epistolary sections in first. I was thinking in terms of other people and the genre demands of horror. I’d like to have started and maintained a distant omni but it’s not how I want to write it - even if horror is often more effective this way.

Have completed a novel yet? If you have you’ll be aware of the demands and can work within/around them; if you haven’t then prepare yourself for a steep learning curve that might be tough but will be a fun ride when you get it right.

I really sympathise with your question. My WIP is 10 years old this summer partly because of rewrites, partly research. But I’ve been able to maintain excitement about the project the whole way because I’m doing what I want to, albeit informed by advice here on Chrons and what have you.

Best of luck

pH
 

L.L.Lotte

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Thanks, pH.

I have actually finished a novel before, or at least I got to "The End", but never successfully published it. That novel I wrote completely in 3rd because it had many different plot lines being led by individual characters that all came together at the end to make one complete story.

I decided I needed to grow more as a writer before I could be successful. Having looked back at said novel after a couple years of it hiding in the depths of my hard drive I do in fact realise where I went wrong with it... I thought about rewriting it, again, but at this point in time, I want to do something different; a new world and characters, explore a different story.

So yes, I did undertake this project knowing full well that it might well take me a long, long time with many, many rewrites. :cry:

I'm prepared to do that. I want to do that and make this the best I can, and making it the best requires a mountain of effort.
 
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