First & third person in the same novel?

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lunerunit
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First & third person in the same novel?

Post by lunerunit » May 24th, 2010, 8:44 pm

I'm in a writer's critique group and I'm reviewing a YA manuscript that I am really enjoying. But there is one thing that confuses me. The author has written the main character's perspective from 1st person, and the rest of the novel (everyone else's perspective) is written in 3rd person. I have never seen this before. Is there a rule or something that says you shouldn't do this, or does it matter?

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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by BransfordGroupie » May 24th, 2010, 9:07 pm

lunerunit wrote:I'm in a writer's critique group and I'm reviewing a YA manuscript that I am really enjoying. But there is one thing that confuses me. The author has written the main character's perspective from 1st person, and the rest of the novel (everyone else's perspective) is written in 3rd person. I have never seen this before. Is there a rule or something that says you shouldn't do this, or does it matter?
That would be interesting to read. I don't know the answer, but if it works, and the reader is never confused, then I guess it would be ok.
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polymath
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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by polymath » May 24th, 2010, 9:23 pm

Two areas of concern in mixing person as indicated. A first person narrator might be perceived as the narrator for third person scenes, which would be fabulous if it's credible and evident. Young adult readers have a capacity to process and evaluate multiple viewpoints and unfamiliar points of view, but they're comparatively limited capacities. Readers don't generally fully develop those reading and processing skills until later in college, if at all.

I can see how a first person narrator mixed with a third person narrator can be done well and still meet young adult audience reading skill sets and expectations. But I'm sure it would be challenging to write and ideally should have an evidentiary purpose.

Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions smoothly transitions between first and third person voices, but under close scrutiny, it becomes apparent the narrator is solely a first person one. To say the least, Breakfast has a distinctly different voice than much of contemporary literature. An at-will omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent first person narrative voice contravening several contemporary writing principles that nonetheless serve central-to-the-story Postmodern purposes. Vonnegut's choice of voices transition between real author-real reader interface, implied author-implied reader interface, narrator-narratee interface, and intimate audience rapport with viewpoint characters, by using grammatical person transitions and voice attitudes as well as varying psychic access to alter narrative distances.

There are consensuses who believe mixing persons shouldn't be done, to the point of self-imposing rules they apply to what they will or won't read or write.
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Holly
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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by Holly » May 24th, 2010, 9:53 pm

lunerunit wrote:I'm in a writer's critique group and I'm reviewing a YA manuscript that I am really enjoying. But there is one thing that confuses me. The author has written the main character's perspective from 1st person, and the rest of the novel (everyone else's perspective) is written in 3rd person. I have never seen this before. Is there a rule or something that says you shouldn't do this, or does it matter?
Stephen King wrote CHRISTINE with the main character in first person and everybody else in third, and it is one helluva book. If it works, it works.

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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by izanobu » May 25th, 2010, 3:57 am

Both Michael Connelly and James Patterson have used this technique in their novels, and they sell tons of books, so really, it can work just fine when done well, just like any other story-telling technique.

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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by J. T. SHEA » May 25th, 2010, 10:35 am

Like Holly, I thought of Stephen King's CHRISTINE the moment I read Lunerit's query. But then I wondered if Lunerit was referring to mixing up the POVs in every chapter or page.

CHRISTINE has three distinct acts. The first act in the first person POV of one of two young friends, describing their adventures. The second act is in third person POV, describing mostly the adventures of the other friend, while the first act's narrator is in hospital. The final act reverts to the same first person POV as the first act, now the original narrator is out of hospital.

CHRISTINE's structure works well but is not very radical. DRACULA, for example, has more first person POVs and mixes them up more. DUNE changes POV from paragraph to paragraph but sticks with third person. I am not up to date on Michael Connelly, but I think James Patterson only changes POV between chapters. Patterson uses very short chapters, of course. I agree it works if it works.

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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by bronwyn1 » May 26th, 2010, 1:09 pm

I'm actually doing the first person/third person switch in my latest WIP right now...haha.

It may seem ambitious and it might end up not working, but what's the harm in trying?

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lunerunit
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Re: First & third person in the same novel?

Post by lunerunit » May 26th, 2010, 7:59 pm

My verdict, in this case, is that it works. I think it makes the reading interesting.

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