1. johnbaxter
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    johnbaxter Member

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    Mixing First and Third Person

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by johnbaxter, Apr 16, 2012.

    I'm clear on the differences, pros and cons, between first and third person writing. But what about a Prologue written in first person, and the rest of the book written in third person? William Goldman used this approach in "The Princess Bride", starting with his search for the (imaginary) classic by S. Morgenstern, and then moving to the story told in third person.

    I have an Epilogue that ends with the boss of the main character taking a photograph of her in her late 20s. I want to write a Prologue in first person about her son receiving the photo from a relative, a photo he has never seen, after her death at age 88.

    I know William Goldman can get away with this, but would an agent or publisher reject the book by a new author based on mixing first and third person?

    Have you written in this way?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't, and don't foresee a situation where I would want to. First and third have a distinctly different "feel". Besides, prologues are the Devil's rec room.
     
  3. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    The only feedback I have had from publishers is 'Don't mix the two' in the narrative.
    I see no problem in writing a prologue in first person and then the story in third - but wouldn't it make more sense to do it all in one or the other?

    If I write in one POV I generally stay within it.
     
  4. johnbaxter
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    johnbaxter Member

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    I just finished writing the prologue in both first and third person versions. I think either one works, but maybe I should go with third person for consistency. As far as including it, it ties directly to the ending, sort of like bookends. The photo in the prologue reflects the change she went through after a life changing event (I don't know if this is a proper use of foreshadowing, but that's how I view it). The taking of the photo in the epilogue produces a response that shows the change.
     
  5. johnbaxter
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    johnbaxter Member

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    As mentioned in another response, I just finished writing the prologue in both first and third person versions. I think either one works, but maybe I should go with third person for consistency. Thanks.
     
  6. thecoopertempleclause
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    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

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    It's quite common to use a mixture of perspectives in novels, but I wouldn't suggest mixing 3rd-person omniscient with anything else. Also, make sure you start a new chapter whenever the perspective shifts.

    One I'm working on at the moment alternates between 1st-person and 3rd-person cinematic for the opening 7 or 8 chapters, stays with 1st-person for most of the middle before finishing with 3rd-person. I chose this because it's absolutely the only way to tell the story that I want to tell, I wouldn't suggest it just as a way of adding 'variety' to a work though.
     
  7. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I've done it the other way around a few times... writing a prologue in third person while the entire rest of the story is in first person. It was a crime/mystery story, and basically at the beginning I had short prologue from the perspective of the "killer" committing whatever crime he has done. Or sometimes it would be like a flashback scene to the past. But just a short piece that obviously doesn't go with the rest of the book but is still relevant to the story.
     
  8. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    I wrote my fantasy novel, Dexter of Pozzelby, with a mixture of two POV's. About seventy-five percent of it is first person, but there are a few segues that go to 3rd limited where the MC is not present. Of course the book did not generate sufficient interest with an agent or publisher to get a bite, and I wound up releasing it as a self-published ebook because I was tired of looking at it. Be that as it may, it has received generally favorable feedback, and I have not heard any negative feedback regarding the POVs.

    Still, whenever feasible, I try to keep to one POV.
     
  9. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    That's really funny. I read too many books with unnecessary prologues. I'll always picture this now.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aside from any comments about the pros and cons of prologues, as far as I can see PoV and voice switches seem to be generally ok as long as they happen on significant boundaries such as chapter breaks. Between a prologue and the main text is just such a major boundary, so I don't see that it should be an issue.
     
  11. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    From a techincal view, yes you can do so as long as you keep clear boundaries between the text (chapter breaks would do best since you are changing viewpoints from a character to a narrator). But I will go with Cogito on this one. First-person and third-person limited or otherwise have distinct feels to them. I write almost nothing but first-person myself. It feels more enthralling to me than the ghostly narrator. Mixing them up in one novel would be VERY hard to pull off without feeling forced and calling attention to itself. And prologues can be done well, but usually are NOT.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's fairly commonplace in the stuff that I read, and works with no problem at all.
    That might be why you would have trouble switching between first and third -- you're not as used to third.
    There I agree!
     
  13. AMJ
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    AMJ Member

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    I can think of a few examples where it has worked well - No COuntry for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy has italicized first person sections littered amongst the third person narrative and it's not distracting at all. I've read some forgettable books where it is a little over donw though. I remember one thriller by Robert Crais where most of the book was first person but there was alot of third person chapters as well, which were used to fill in the fairly large holes in the story and to hit the reader over the head with a sledgehammer of plot points. It was all too messy and lazy, I thought.
     
  14. Kyouka
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    Kyouka New Member

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    I think having a prologue in the first person can contribute in a nice way to suspension of disbelief, as in the example given by the OP with "The Princess Bride".
    As for mixing first and third person in the main body of the work, the only thing I remember reading that's done this outside of quotations is Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle": parts of the internal monologues of the characters were in first-person while everything else was third-person. That took some getting used to, as the monologues were quite extensive, but overall it worked! I just wouldn't opt to write like that myself, as a matter of personal taste.
    Example from Philip K. Dick's story (if it is within fair-use; please remove it if my putting it here could prove problematic for the site):
    edit to add: Of course, first-person narratives also mix third-person (however shallow, unless the narrator can read minds as is sadly not without precedent...) throughout as they observe other characters going about their business. I reckon that hardly needs mentioning, but I wanted to have all my bases covered.
     

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