I had a long weekend away from the computer. We spent a lot of time shopping for a car and finally bought one today. We traded in our ancient Honda Civic (nearly 18 years old) and came home with a brand new Civic with that mysterious new-car smell that everybody wants, even though it’s really rather sickening.
It’s been about 8 years since the last time I bought a car, and a lot has changed since then. The internet has made research far easier. Possibly as a result, the salesmen at the car dealerships seem to be much less aggressive than they used to be. (Or else I just got lucky and didn’t run into any weasels-in-suits.)
I spent some time looking through the comments that accumulated over the weekend, as well as questions that were asked over the last ten days or so. It seemed that there were a few on point of view (POV), so I thought I’d start things off for the week with this question:
I’ve been thinking of using first person POV, because I think that it would work really well for my protagonist. However, this would force me to write a prologue about him in someone else’s third person POV (since the reader should not know straight away he is the protagonist, that should only be clear in the first chapter). Furthermore, I have several story lines, the biggest one being that of the protagonist of course. However, the two other storylines don’t always have him in the scene. Do you think it’s acceptable to switch between first person protagonist POV in one chapter to someone else’s third person POV in the next?
Randy sez: It’s perfectly fine to work with first person in one chapter and third person in another. Or multiple POVs, all in first person. The only rule is that it has to work. Which means you give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience with each POV character.
For example, in Diana Gabaldon’s ground-breaking time-travel romance series, the second book, DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, was written partly in first person and partly in third person. (The first in the series, OUTLANDER, was all first-person. Her character in the second novel was told in first person, while other characters were written in third person.) It worked very well.
As another example, Sol Stein’s novel, THE BEST REVENGE, was written using several POV characters, all written in first-person. Sol was one of the great editors and also one of the great writing teachers of the twentieth century, and he’s one of the few who is also an outstanding writer. (Often, great editors can’t write fiction, and many excellent teachers are only so-so at writing.)
I’ll be working on my next issue of the e-zine tomorrow. Go ahead and post your questions on POV here and I’ll begin answering them tomorrow (or Wednesday if my brain turns into oatmeal after writing the e-zine tomorrow).
Christophe Desmecht says
Thanks for answering my question, Randy, and for the reassurance 🙂
Looking forward to the next issue of your e-zine!
I’d like a different point of view on point of view. 🙂
Christophe Desmecht says
I’ve heard people talk about close third person POV. I was wondering what the different kinds of POV were in terms of “closeness”. I didn’t see this discusses anywhere so far, not even in Sol Stein’s book. Also, are there certain POV things one shoud never ever do? (pitfalls so to speak)
Pam Halter says
Sigmund Brouwer’s Mars Diaries (for middle grade readers) is part first person and part third. It works really well.
Rob Hajicek says
First person can be very powerful as you can really get inside the head of the main character(s), and this can help the reader emotionally attach to the character.
One of the limitations of 1st person, though, is that the main character has to “be there” for you to include something in your book. This is true even if it means that they have to “be there” to hear news from someone else. You have to be careful not to twist your plot to get the character “there”. If this is happening, a close 3rd person POV might be better.
I prefer close 3rd person for the freedom it gives me, while my daughter, who is writing a book as well, prefers 1st person.
The concept of using both in the same book is interesting, but would this work only if you switched between “monologue/diary entry” and 3rd person??! I can’t quite imagine going back and forth otherwise.
How do you know what will work best to provide a Power Emotional Experience?
Writing for a younger audience I’m inclined to go first person (re-wrote a whole draft after completing it third person). I found it helped me to only show what the character could see, but other side was that it felt limiting.
Is it possible to switch from first person for action to third person for description if it doesn’t suit your character to be particularly eloquent in her descriptions of what she sees?
Oh, the literary urges!
I’m curious about being able to get detail out in first person. I have a WIP that is an historical fantasy romance type that I originally planned to do all in first person. But the more I think of getting some historical details into it I’m wondering if putting a bit in first person and the rest in third person might not be best. I just can’t seem to imagine the details in anything but third person. Personally I’d like to keep it in first person, sort of a journal type of thing, but only if it would work. (My WIP is currently in mostly the outlining stage with only the prelude written until I figure out which POV to write it in.)
ML Eqatin says
I remember a device for switching from third-person to first-person POV that was used in a book called the Coffee Trader. (I have forgotten almost everything else about it, except that I never got to care what happened to any of the characters.)In order to present a mystery-solving mindset, at the end or beginning of each chapter a kind of mastermind would present, in first person, a short letter or diary entry on what he was up to with the other characters. Then it would move back to third person. Now that I think about it, I remember there were some people you really didn’t like, and they never got theirs. Far too much like the real world. Who was it that said “The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense?”
Omniscient POV has really gone out of vogue, but it still sells. Which makes sense; if I set out to relate an anecdote of what happened to a friend, I lay out the story according to how I want my listeners to respond, maybe the funny part at the very end, with all the details that make it funny told first regardless of who knew what when. All the great sagas are presented this way.
But just as often, if the incident happened to myself, I will tell it by timeline. Which is why ‘I’ stories can sometimes get very boring.
When your friends tell you stories, what engages you?
Enjoy the ride! -MLE
Brandilyn Collins alternates third and first in some of her books as well.
I too find myself constricted when trying to write in first-person, but I’m so enticed by the rich possibilities that it holds. Any tips in switching gears from first to third Randy?
Karen D'Amato says
Randy, Randy, Randy…
Sell your Honda Civic – why? Don’t you know those things run on wishes for centuries? I just hope it wasn’t a hatchback. There’s a black market on them.
So, how many miles did you bury the thing at?
Bonne asked how do you know which POV will give the best emotional experience? Try writing a few paragraphs of your WIP in each form of POV. The one you can’t stop writing for is most likely your passionate one.
For great examples of unusual first persons, read The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski, or Alice Sebold’s Lovely Bones. They’re both a step away from the norm.
Note: The Painted Bird may make you sick, and Lovely Bones isn’t exactly a Christian novel.
bonne friesen says
Thanks for the practical feedback, Karen!
Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer discusses the differences between close and omniscient 3rd person POV quite nicely, if I recall. Close gets you more in the head of the POV character like 1st person, and omniscient is a little less personal, but lets the author/reader see all that is going on. This book explains it very well.
If you want a real challenge as a writer, check out Travis Thrasher’s Blinded. He writes it in 2nd person POV! I haven’t read it yet but have heard very good things about it. On my To Buy and Read List, along with Double Vision. 😀
Lois Hudson says
In a novel recently finished (but cooling for revision), I wrote the entire novel in third person in my protagonist’s POV. However, I had to write one chapter in the antagonist’s POV (also third person), but had to get into her head to reveal how devious and manipulative she was. As some of you have commented, she was great fun to write because she was so evil. I didn’t feel it necessary to come back to her POV because once she was introduced in the second chapter, the reader knows what she might be capable of in the ensuing ones, also revealed by her dialogue and observable actions. Is it too odd to have only one chapter in her POV?
My current, longer, work involves a number of women of different ages and stages of life, so I’m putting relevant chapters in the POV of the main character of that chapter, heading each chapter with the name and the date, which helps the reader’s orientation. Even when several of the characters are in the same chapter, I’m sticking with the POV of the character
who’s story we’re in at the time. I think it works.