Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

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bcomet
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » November 16th, 2010, 7:29 pm

So how do you feel chapters that view *one character* alternating from first person treatment to third person treatment on the same (main) character?

(with, third person on other characters but no other first person but the main character,

with each shift separated by a chapter break)?

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polymath
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by polymath » November 16th, 2010, 8:18 pm

The only novel I know of that uses both first and third person viewpoints for the same character in the sense I think you mean is Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs. It doesn't shift from first person for Buffalo Bill's viewpoint in that sense, but is reported in third person from other characters' third person viewpoints.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by Fenris » November 17th, 2010, 9:57 am

I've never had much trouble with multiple POVs, to be honest. The only time I did was in Eldest of the Inheritance series, when it was Roran's POV, and that was only because it seemed more boring to me than the events happening to Eragon.

Now, in my WIP, there are all kinds of multiple POVs. For the most part it's third-person limited, restricted to the MC. But when he's out of the loop for whatever reason, that same POV often switches over to another primary character, usually his teacher, his rival, or his possessor (as in, spirit who's possessing him). But oftentimes, especially at the very beginning of the MS, POV will suddenly switch to first-person through the eyes of the possessing spirit, telling his thoughts. So far, the only problem anyone's had with any of the POV switches is at the very end of the MS, where it's practically flying around, jumping from one character to another.

However, I have had to be very careful with said POV switches, as I don't want to accidentally confuse the reader. So, all in all, the matter of POV switching seems to be yet another object on the list of things for which the middle ground is slightly thin. If you can pull it off well, it soars. If not, well...it doesn't. Personally, I am a fan of multiple POVs, but I also realize how hard it can be to pull off.

In response to your latest question (as I understand it, at least), such POV-switches could be confusing unless they are separated clearly, like through thoughts vs. actions, with the thoughts being in their natural first-person, since that's how everyone thinks, and the actions (i.e. the rest of the story) being in third-person. Even other characters can slip into first-person, as long as you're careful to establish exactly whose POV it is before doing so.

Hope this helped!
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bcomet
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » November 17th, 2010, 1:46 pm

Thanks. All of these comments are helpful and appreciated.

I'm aware that I'm stretching and might have to rewrite whole sections if it doesn't work.

With other novel-length projects, the POV has seemed relatively obvious to me.
How is the story best told? etc.

But with this project, it twists and switches back and forth. Sometimes it feels like the most intimate way to write a chapter
is first person, inside the main character and through their psyche and experience.
In other chapters, the main character is more sympathetic through a third person or outside view.
And, in still other chapters, the main character is in play, but not in the scene, so it has to be told through another character
and, in these chapters, I use third person.

It is very hard to shift this way, for me as a writer. But a POV and scene ends and it seems to have to shift to go on.
The writing is jerky in that sense, however when I read back from the start, it seems to be effective...(for the most part, so far).

But, as a writer, it is sort of like knowing how to sail and handle a simpler boat and then getting on a more complex one with a number of different sails and having to figure out how to coordinate everything without prior experience with the more complex boat and sails.

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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by AlexWolfe » November 19th, 2010, 1:50 pm

One fantastic example of alternating POV that hasn't been mentioned is The Winter of Our Discontent by Steinbeck because the alternating POV is essential to the story.

The opening chapters of the story are told in the third person. In the beginning, the reader sees an ostensibly jovial main character. He is constantly entertaining his wife with lewd jokes. He works at a grocery store, and jokingly delivers sermons to the food on the shelves. Every person that meets him thinks he's happy.

Then, a few chapters in, the POV switches to the first person, and the character is completely changed. Seeing things from his perspective, it becomes clear that his humor is a mask used to disguise how he feels maligned by the world around him.

One of the themes I found in the work is that it's very hard to truly know someone else. Steinbeck realized this and utilized the POV in way that enhanced this. In the book, the shifting POV was absolutely essential to the work. And that should be the ultimate barometer, not whether it's allowed or not.

Like others have mentioned, really ask yourself if changing the POV is worth it for the story. Is it worth possibly alienating the reader? Does it make the story better? Why? How would each scene changed if it were written in the other POV? If it's best in one POV for [insert reason here], write it that way and see what other people think. Worst case scenario, you re-write the scene with new understanding, and it'll be that much stronger.

Hope this helps.

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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » November 19th, 2010, 7:46 pm

This is very helpful. Thanks to all for this conversation.

The first person/third person POV switch is, to date, the most difficult structure I have wrestled a novel with.

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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » July 30th, 2011, 10:01 am

After a break, I am again continuing work on the WIP that has these complicated alternating positions.

Returning to this thread, I find, like many topics in this forum, that a topic continues to inform me as I move deeper into my experience with it.

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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by washingtonwriter1968 » August 2nd, 2011, 11:01 am

bcomet,
I am doing exactly what you are describing in my WIP I got some help with transitions from Polymorph. These are the rules I have set for myself. I do not switch POV until the beginning or end of a Chapter. I use a device that clearly indicates who is talking. Such as changing to a letter or journal format. I keep in mind that I must transition my reader to the coming change at the end of my first POV and third POV. and then back again.
Example:
Each party, continued to prepare for the experiment. The Witnesses of the Outer Veil turned their eyes toward the little insignificant twin towns of Sekiu-Clallam Bay to see how the experiment would play out and what the outcome would be for the people who lived there. Their focus sharpened to one human in particular; one human named Chavalah Una Martin. Each hoping to experience the event from her point of view; they tapped into her consciousness and watched.

Chapter one then begins with my MC's POV
Hope this has helped!
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MattLarkin
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by MattLarkin » August 2nd, 2011, 11:15 am

I've seen it done in the Night Watch series too. I like multiple POVs, but I find the change between third and first kind of jarring most of the time. Personal preference is usually that a novel should either be first person for one character all the way, or third person for serval all the way.

But if the story is done well, I am open to reading new ways.
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bcomet
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » August 9th, 2011, 11:10 am

It's very challenging and a bit over my head, but that's the fun of it too, all the growing as a writer because I feel, in this story, it is needed to best write the story.

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