A matter of perspective

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ObsidianVale, Jul 28, 2009.

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  1. Ex Leper

    Ex Leper Member

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    Carsun1000, thanks for the advice. I've already tried writing both styles. Still can't decide.

    izzybot, I'll check out that thread. Thanks.

    mad_hatter, have you ever read H.P. Lovecraft? He does this a few times. The narrator will be someone in a mental institute, for example, writing about how he got there. He will make it clear at the start that he is writing from after the events he is about to tell you. Often the narrator will then tell you how he discovered a mysterious and forbidden book. The majority of the story is now the words of this book, which may contain another account of another character's point of view. So, after reading the mysterious and forbidden book the narrator will then tell the reader how it affected him, and of the mysterious monsters he sees in the shadows and how he has been driven mad by all this. So you have the narrator recounting an account from a book and telling you how it affected him.

    Something like that. Lovecraft's not the easiest author to read.

    EDIT: From Wikipedia: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at one point features the narration of an Arctic explorer, who records the narration of Victor Frankenstein, who recounts the narration of his creation, who narrates the story of a cabin dwelling family he secretly observes.

    A more well-known story that uses story within a story on mulitple layers.
     
  2. mad_hatter

    mad_hatter Active Member

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    I've read some Lovecraft and I've read Frankenstein, both quite some time ago. I don't ever remember being confused by the writing of either though. I think what your attempting to do (and what Frankenstein does, if I remember correctly) is to change from one characters perspective to another, either telling the same story, or different interwoven stories. That's fine. I'd just try to avoid switching characters during a chapter. New chapter, new character, no problem.

    I think izzybot offers some good advice there; consider writing a prologue in third person, then switching to first person for the bulk of your story.

    Personally, I much prefer to read third person than first...
     
  3. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, other than the preference of the writer, 1st person is just as easy to write as third person, and just about anything that can be done in 1st person can be done in 3rd person limited. 1st person is preferable if you need an unreliable narrator. I find 3rd person preferable if I want to have multiple POV characters (and I usually do), because while it is possible to have more than one POV character in 1st person, one must them make absolutely certain that their "voices" are all dissimilar from one another.

    3rd person has been used more than 1st, but here lately, I think 1st has become very popular. Neither can be considered, by itself, to be "formulaic".

    Certainly a point in favor of using 3rd person in your story.

    You say you prefer it and that it fits your story well, but you don't say why. I haven't read anything by Lovecraft, but it strikes me that you are inclined to 1st person because you think it's "less conventional" and because a writer you admire used it. In my opinion, neither is a sufficiently good reason to use a technique when you already think it makes telling your story harder. My advice is to use whatever method makes it easiest to tell your story, because that will also make it easiest for your reader to read it.

    Good luck.
     
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  4. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Difficult choice - but I would think the story should dictate more than just the opening on whether you pick first person or third.
    With first person your mc has to learn everything - either through a third party or be present or it's like it never happened. With third you can show an army descending on her castle ( I have no idea what your story is just using this as an excuse ) while she's brushing her hair and build some tension. The reader can be aware of things the mc isn't privy to yet.

    With first person you have to be more clever about building tension. The reader can never be aware of something the mc doesn't know unless it's something like the mc can't understand why she feels so warm and giddy around Mark. Or rumor has it an army is heading their way and the mc is ignoring the clues that the reader is picking up.

    You seem to prefer 1st person pov over third assuming 1st is more unconventional. Actually it's all on voice and how you work it. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    I haven't read H.P. Lovecraft but to me it sounds like recounting events could lead to tense issues and possibly a lot of telling.
     
  5. funandgames

    funandgames New Member

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    Hey guys/gals,

    I'm looking for a bit of guidance to do with perspective. I'm currently writing my first ever manuscript (yay!) and am doing so in the third-person limited perspective. My current issue is that my protagonist is going away for a chapter or so, (he's been captured by the bad guys) and a secondary character is going to mount a rescue.

    This means that the protagonist will not feature at all in this chapter. I don't want the readers to be able to hear the thoughts inside the secondary characters head, as she has secrets that I want the reader to discover at the same time as the protagonist. So I guess that this chapter will be told in a general third-person (non-omniscient)

    My question is: how do others cope with this? Is it normal to change perspective mid-novel? Would the readers be confused etc?

    Or is this a complete non-issue as long as you make it clear to the reader what perspective they are in?

    Sorry for the very noobish question!

    Thanks,
     
  6. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    If it's a regular thing, then no problem. If it's a one time thing, maybe avoid it. That kind of thing was fairly common in the past, but modern readers shy away from it, generally.
     
  7. funandgames

    funandgames New Member

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    In the outline that I have for the manuscript it only has this one occasion where the protagonist would be out of the picture for any length of time. The chapter is slightly important as it introduces a new character and kicks off a subplot, so it would be nice to keep it, and find a way that I can tell the story without confusing/annoying the readers!
     
  8. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree with @NiallRoach - if you regularly include bits from the secondary character's POV, I'd have no problem with it, but it would be weird to just have one chapter in isolation.

    Can you just stay in the main POV and have the secondary character doing the rescuing without details? Anything we need to know, she could explain to the MC.
     
  9. funandgames

    funandgames New Member

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    So you mean - chapter starts with the secondary character saving the protagonist, then having her explain to him how she did it and what she went through?
     
  10. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    But from what I understand, this secondary character and MC will be apart, so how would that work?

    I'm no help, I'm afraid. Your hurdle here is exactly the reason I only write in 1st person. It makes life so much easier.
     
  11. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yeah, if it's necessary for the readers to know exactly how she did it.

    Or they could retrace her steps as they escape from the building and the MC could work it out as they went.

    What's the purpose of showing the secondary character performing the rescue? Are you trying to build her up as a capable strategist, or show that she'll take risks to save the MC, or...? I'd figure out what the goal is and then see if there isn't some other way of meeting that goal.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think when we decide a POV, it's worth trying to stick to it and giving it a shot. This would mean that the readers only learn of things and know things filtered through your POV character in limited third. I think too many POVs is a distraction. Be omni or be limited. I'm not sure you can do both. Well, you can do whatever you want. The main thing to keep in mind here is clarity. Will the reader still have clarity regardless of what you decide to do?
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In this case, and assuming that you REALLY need to follow the rescue plan, I would switch from third person limited from your protagonist's POV, to third person limited from the POV of someone in the rescue party. If there's only one person in the rescue party and it's the one with the secrets, AND the secrets are quite likely to come to that character's mind and it will feel like cheating if they don't....that's a difficulty. Is that the situation?
     
  14. funandgames

    funandgames New Member

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    Pretty much the situation yeah. Thanks for all the advice everyone, I have decided to stick to the protagonists POV for this chapter and just alter the structure of it slightly so she can explain things as they are busy doing all of the escape stuff. I'm just trying to avoid the whole cliche of 'being rescued at the last minute' feel to it now. I think my main character is going to have to take a beating now just to make the rescue more dramatic. Hope he doesn't mind :p
     
  15. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I wonder why so many people say this. I don't agree at all! As an omniscient narrator you have to be extra careful not to be intrusive, descriptions are usually boring unless you "borrow" a character's point of view, and you're expected to tell the reader what's going on in all of the main character's minds (or at least I am expecting that of the narrator!) which can be tricky when you have a gathering of three or more characters and you have to skip from one to the other constantly. Sometimes I feel very tired writing from so many perspectives. It's like I'm acting all the roles in one play.
    With the first person you remain in the safe zone of one character who is telling the story and no more is required of you. And if this character is emotional, poetic even, he can say nothing wrong.
    I always write as the omniscient narrator but sometimes I let this or that character "think out loud" and I find those are the easiest parts to write. A lot less tiring for me, that's for sure!
     
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  16. Sal Boxford

    Sal Boxford Senior Member

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    @Rosacrvx I agree that third person is not easier to write. When I write in 3rd person the results are usually pretty bad. I get over-wordy and boring - I become this big know-it-all creator, in love with her own characters, marvelling at her creativity, drifting off on tangents. I find it difficult to write well in this POV.

    For me first person is always easiest, for the reasons you give. I know what to include or not (because I just report what he sees/thinks), any poor grammar or other foibles are his problem, not mine, mood/emotion builds naturally because the way he writes/speaks will change with the situation. It feels so much less artificial - both to write and (hopefully) to read.
     
  17. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    Funny that you mention this because I had this lovely experience writing through the point of view of a child and, at some point, let this three-year-old "think out loud" in mid sentence as he would speak in "real life" and it was a lot of fun to write! I only hope the readers will enjoy it too when they realise they're suddenly reading a three-year-old child grammar and vocabulary... but I find it so cute! :)

    What's difficult, after letting my characters "think out loud", is returning to the omniscient narrator. Compared to the quirky language of some characters, the narrator can sound dry. My hope is that the reader gets used to this style and keeps waiting for another character's voice to be heard. (If I don't blunder, that is.)
     
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  18. Elven Candy

    Elven Candy Pay no attention to the foot in my mouth Contributor

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    You could always go the Jane Austin style and give the narrator a voice of his/her/it(?)'s own. It's subtle, but it's there, and it adds so much enjoyment to the story. I don't read many omniscient point of view books, mostly just third person limited, but I've never found Jane Austin's narrator dry.

    @Ex Leper, I actually hate prologues most of the time. If a book has a prologue, the back-cover blurb had better have hooked me good to get through that prologue. I MUCH prefer discovering what happened as the main character discovers it. But not everyone hates prologues, so take my preference with a grain of salt.

    The beginning of a book doesn't have to be exciting--it can also be intriguing. In fact, intrigue hooks me a lot faster and for a lot longer than exciting does, especially if the book then gets slow for a while. There HAS to be something interesting happening that you can use to hook the reader while writing in the first person. Or you can do what others suggested and just write the prologue anyway. Prologues often don't follow the viewpoint or rules of the rest of the book (one reason I don't like them, to be honest).
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm confused. You seem to be equating third person with omniscient. But third person omniscient is just one of the third person choices. You're absolutely NOT expected to tell the reader what's going on all of the main characters' minds, even in third person omniscient. And in closed third person limited, the writing is very similar to first person.
     
  20. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I wasn't taught literature that way. I indeed thought that the third person was the same as the omniscient narrator. I just read an article on the differences and I get it now. But I wasn't taught that difference during my many years in school and university. It's news to me, thank you.

    I do write as the omniscient narrator so I wasn't wrong about that.
     
  21. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    There's a lot to unpack here.

    Others have explained why third is not formulaic or any more conventional than first. In fact, in young adult, first is probably used more than third.

    The specific style you're thinking of, where a narrator recounts past events, isn't unusual either and certainly doesn't have to be "slow and awkward."

    In any case, I don't see how this is a first vs third question. You can do your "third person" option in first, and your "first person" option in third. You can have a prologue in third and the rest of the book in first. You can use close third limited, which can be identical to first except for the pronouns (she/he instead of I). I write in that style because I prefer third person pronouns, maybe because I associate first with YA books and I write adult. E.g.:

    It was time to tell my story, after all these years. I took a deep breath and began.

    I was born, I said, in...

    It was time to tell her story, after all these years. She took a deep breath and began.

    She was born, she said, in...

    So this isn't a question of 1st/3rd. It's a question of which opening you use, in either.

    This doesn't sound like a great idea, and plays into the reasons that so many dislike prologues. You're going to write a tense, exciting opening, get the reader hooked on that narrative... and then jerk them out of it, put them with a new narrator, and make them sit through another opening only, this time, it'll be slow? Abort! Abort!

    This does not have to be slow and awkward at all. I'm not sure why you think that?

    ---

    Generally, I think it's a bad idea to be this focused on your opening hook before the story is written. That anxiety leads to gimmicks (which is what your proposed prologue sounds like, to me) and annoyed readers who see through it. Get the story written, and THEN worry about your hook.

    And also, don't underestimate readers. I know there are all those articles out there screaming at you that your first chapter/page/paragraph/sentence/word must be dynamite or readers will lose interest and go and play on their Xboxes, but they're misleading. Readers will give you space to get the story going, within reason, and a "hook" doesn't have to mean tense and exciting. It means interesting.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2016

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