1. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    changing perspectives within a story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sillraaia, Sep 26, 2009.

    how common is it for a writer writing an epic novel to change perspectives? I mean, I have been writing in first person for most of my story, and have reached a point that would be better suited to a different character. Vital storyline stuff that cannot be experienced by the mc, without missing a whole chunk of the story.
    I don't want to keep the next character in first person though, feeling it would be more appropriate to shift to third person for this particular chapter / section of the book. Not only because it seems to feel right, and flow better this way, but also because it makes it clearer to the reader that this is a little different than the way the rest of the book has been written so far - and i am nearing completion.

    Because I am nearing completion, I am a tad concerned about it being slightly disconcerting to the reader, but enjoy the way this next part sounds in third person best, an cannot think of it being written as effectively in first. Having the rest of the book in first person, from the same character, to switch characters now without switching to third person might be more disconcerting than not? I have come to a beautiful pausing point with my first person that I think will blend well..

    What do you think about switching perspectives, as such, in a book?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    To tell you the truth, I don't recall any books where the author switches from first person to third. Even if the point of view shifts from one character to another, the author retains the first person POV throughout the novel. That being said, there's nothing inherently wrong with using the two types of POVs because it ultimately depends on how well you write it. If you think it'll work, then go for it. But I would still highly recommend sticking to either first person or third person throughout.
     
  3. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know one book that had alternated between a first-person and third person. One character was first person and the other character was third, but it alternated after every chapter. It didn't switch to third person halfway through the story for one section.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Can you give me the name of the book and the author? I'm curious to see how it's handled, especially since I've never seen something like that before.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    American Psycho has one chapter in third, and its very jarring, which is the point. Its meant to signify the breakdown of the MC, thingslike that (if you've read it, you'll understand how effective it is).
    It can be done, I'd advise against it. Switching from first to first is okay, but switching first to 3rd seems like it doesnt make much sense.
     
  6. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    Thanks, I will think further on it. My main hesitation in writing this part in 1st person too is that the char is only 6 yrs old, and the switch needs to be understood as a switch, rather than in some other books where they threw the switch in so late it was unexpected and you werent really sure who it was for a few pages..
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't remember the title, but it was one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels.
     
  8. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Like the others have said, changing POV from first to third without some kind of natural transition (such as a new chapter) will be hard to pull off so that it works for you instead of against you. I don't think there's anything wrong with it though. Don't be afraid to experiment! The beauty of writing is that you always have the backspace key if things don't work out the way you hoped they would. :)
     
  9. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    Yes, sorry if I didn't clarify - the 3rd person part would be its' own chapter. To switch without would make it look unintentional, and be thereby confusing.
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    That much I understood, but only doing it for one chapter, halfway through the book still isn't a good idea. The example I gave, every other chapter was the first person character and the others were the person who was in third person, so it was a pattern that was established early on in the book.
     
  11. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I think it could work. Just begin the new chapter in third and then start the next chapter with perhaps the character you are using first person with and have thier name as the chapter title. I tried this when i was messing around with my novel, but for me, it didnt flow. However, if your really crafty and a good writer, I do think you could make it work. Almost like a hazy feel in the novel where you get to step out of the character and see what else is going on.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Possibly, afinemess. "Isn't a good idea" isn't the same thing as "can't be done."
     
  13. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    yes, exactly. I have reached a slow point with the first person, stuck her in a situation that she cannot escape from by herself, until this part of the story has been completed by her younger 6 year old sister - otherwise the reader will be left confused as to how a 6 year old could have accomplished so much by herself - and asking her later isn't an option because of her age, she couldn't realistically explain much.

    I kind of want to switch characters earlier on as well, but not to the 6 year old, to someone else, to fill in a little more of the story. It seems to work okay without it, but to put it in, I think, would flesh it out better, explaining more of the story.

    Maybe that would break the story up some to make this later chapter more acceptable - if I switched characters earlier on as well, I mean, even if it is to someone else.

    I think all I can do is write it out a few ways and see which works best. Nothing will be written in stone.
    Thanks for the replies
     
  14. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    JA Konrath's Whiskey Sour switches POV (3rd to 1st). 1st usually comes in with the killer's pov. It's an interesting change. 3rd gives you that almost professional distance needed with a cops pov, yet you get real close and dirty with the killers. Iguess I'd just be oppsed to switching pov within a scene, It needs a good chapter break to signify it to the reader (that's propbably already been said, sorry!)
     
  15. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    American Gods is an excellent example of POV shifting done well.

    All of Shadows storyline is told in 3rd person. The “coming to America” interludes are narrated in 1st person by a character who appears half way through the novel. Occasionally the book are even switches to second person when the story cuts away to reveal the current lifestyles of several of the old gods.
     
  16. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sill, please don't think any of us were attempting to discourage you or tell you not to do it. We were simply making you aware of the weaknesses of doing things this way, so that you will be prepared for the kinds of responses you will likely get if you are not super careful about how you do it. As arron pointed out, it can be very jarring.
     
  17. pinelopikappa
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    pinelopikappa Senior Member

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    The following is a brilliant example of changing voices, from one chapter to the next. One of the most amazing books I've ever read, and I know it has been translated in english. You should read it. Not only is it an amazing short novel, it is also a lesson in writing.

    From this link


    Obituary
    Antonis Samarakis

    Greek writer whose masterpiece anticipated his country's military dictatorship and explored the helplessness of ordinary people
    David Holton
    The Guardian, Saturday 16 August 2003 02.24 BST

    The masterpiece of the Greek writer Antonis Samarakis, who has died aged 83, To Lathos (The Flaw, 1965), was eerily prophetic of the military dictatorship that was shortly to be established in his native land. The novel, translated into English by Peter Mansfield and Richard Burns, in 1969, dealt with the fate of a suspect detained in an unspecified police state; a plan is devised to make him attempt to escape, thereby proving his guilt, or confess to his anti-state crimes under interrogation.

    The flaw is the plan's failure to allow for the human factor, the fellow-feeling that the interrogator develops for the suspect during their time together. The novel was awarded the coveted prize of the Twelve in Greece in 1966 and the Grand Prix de la Littèrature Policière in France in 1970. It was also turned into a successful film by Peter Fleischmann in 1974.
     
  18. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    There are often instances of this in crime fiction where you read from the killers POV and then hte remainder from third person, but it is a difficult skill to master, i have attemped this myself in one of my stories but soon reverted back to the tried and tested method as it did appear rather jarring.
     
  19. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    If I'm understanding your shift, it's from the first person MC to a third person other character in order to give the reader a take that the MC would have no way of knowing. If that's so, then my initial thought would be this: if I've been engaged (as a reader) in this "epic" story up to this point, my suspicion would be that this has everything to do with being engaged by your first person MC for the duration. Seems to me you run a very big risk of losing your reader because you're removing the key reasons why you've engaged his imagination, to begin with. I would wonder if your "beautiful pausing point" might be a good place to end the novel, placing pieces of the third person necessities among various parts of the story about and told by your MC. That's just my immediate reaction.
     
  20. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    I would integrate it all with the mc if I could, but my MC has gone and gotten herself captured, and only her sister who was the most protected, escaped with their key to freedom.
    Without the sisters input, staying with the main character would mean the story would lose a LOT of the suspense I am building as the plot twists on one end, and the other end continues with the plan that ends up working, but also causing more problems than they started out with.

    Staying with the MC would mean they need to wait until this rescue plan comes through (the one that had been planned on for a lot of the book - it must go on), missing out on how it was all done - the action - and then coming in at the 'rescue', trying to 'clean up the mess', so to speak, having no real way to find out what happened in the middle, since her sister is only 6 and cannot explain it later.
    To me, missing out on the action sounds pretty boring. Not to mention confusing. I can't just skip a big part of the resolution to the entire plot. And I would still be with one of the characters that has been with me the whole book, even though she played a somewhat smaller role due to her age.

    I just don't think I can pull of a first person view from a 6 year old and have it all run smoothly. Personally, as a reader, first person stories switching characters to other first person ones gets confusing, hence my hesitation to follow that path.
     
  21. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    My feeling is not that there's a problem with shifting POV, but with doing so solely for the purpose of giving your reader the "end of the story" (almost strikes me as an "infodump" device, which you can read more about in other threads on the topic). I see others have mentioned some good examples of where this POV shift is done periodically over the course of a long story, so that this kind of shift is already integrated in some way into the writing. That's why I was suggesting that perhaps you could do that with this third person character you want to use to "explain" what happens next. I don't think you'll be successful shifting the "writing" in the way you're suggesting only at the end in order to wrap things up, because that may leave your reader wondering what happened to the story he wanted to finish reading. A terrific, compelling story is only so (in my view) because of the writing (and especially how well it's integrated from beginning to end). It seems to me that shifting the writing in this way only at the end of your story could easily have the effect of suggesting to your reader that you wrote yourself into a corner and then took the easy way out.

    But, if you feel strongly about it, then do it. Believe me, if the rest is sufficiently compelling of itself, I'd expect your readers (certainly an agent) to easily identify their thoughts on whether the ending worked or did not.
     
  22. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    Yes, I see what you're saying. While there is no need to shift to the 6 year old at any earlier point in the story, I could shift to one of the other MCs a little earlier, which would help me fill out more of the story in him as a character as well.

    But I don't feel like I have written myself into a corner, as I have reasons for having it work this way as well. And there is no way, imo, this shift to fill in the blanks could be taken as an info dump, as not only will there will be a lot of action from the other characters previously introduced, but also scenes that build suspense and add to the story as a whole. Gives more room for unexpected twists, and suspense building.
    I feel (from the comments I have received from people who have read the story) that I have done well on this 6 year old character, bringing her to life as she followed the MC around, so the reader would already feel something for her, rather than going in cold.

    It was just the shift from first to third I was slightly concerned about - and only because I read somewhere that it is better to stick with the one POV throughout - be it first or third.

    I don't think I would have to shift too many times to integrate the shifting into the story. There is actually a scene I could do it with right at the start as well.. then about half way through or so... but neither of those would be to the 6 year old, since she is with the mc right from the start of the book. Do you think that shifting, no matter who it is to, could help integrate the shifting idea, rather than having it come in sharply towards the end? Or would I have to find a way to shift to this 6 year old previously?
     
  23. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    My real thought is that you need to write this story in the manner that you envision it and know that shifting POV (i.e., who OWNS the story) can easily be confusing to your reader and potentially devastating to your storyline, if not handled skillfully. I think you'll get better advice from a reader who can tell you what impact this has once it's written than you'll get discussing various hypothetical ways of doing so and what to avoid.

    I'm not really sure if you mean by 3rd person POV an actual 3rd person CLOSE POV that gives a significance to that character, which a 3rd person reference to a (secondary) character delivered through an Omniscient POV will not have. Either one, though, is likely to confuse the outcome if not integrated into the story as a bona fide literary device for a reason. Having a first person MC (i.e., narrator) complicates that in some ways, although alternating it throughout with a distinctly different significant understory might work, if done well.

    I'm not sure there's anything at all to lose by trying it the way you envision it, so long as you're willing to give some credence to objections your readers may have as a consequence.

    Just because it's challenging and complicated doesn't mean it won't work. Good luck with it and enjoy the ride!
     

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