Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

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bcomet
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Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » November 2nd, 2010, 4:10 pm

I have a question.

Can you have alternating third person/first person POVs if they are separated by chapter breaks?
Does it work?

I don't recall seeing this done before. It's possible I just can't remember.

If you've seen this done (successfully ;-) ) before or have some thoughts on this, I'd appreciate your input and or referrals to such examples.

Thank you.

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

Post by cheekychook » November 2nd, 2010, 4:27 pm

Yes, it can be done successfully. It's tricky, but doable. No, I haven't done it myself (I have alternating third person in my novel). There are lots of lots of examples...but at the moment my mind is a blank. I'll let you know when one comes to me.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by steve » November 2nd, 2010, 4:55 pm

Check out BLEAK HOUSE by Dickens.
Read one of the best stories by Borges.

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

Post by Holly » November 2nd, 2010, 5:00 pm

Stephen King did this with CHRISTINE. He used alternating sections, not just chapters.

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

Post by Louise Curtis » November 2nd, 2010, 5:54 pm

Having your story happen from two points of view is always difficult for a reader. If at all possible, don't do it - because it means you effectively have to get them hooked into two books, instead of one (and re-hook them over and over again - either that, or they'll simply skip every second section, because they only like the other one - which weakens your book horribly). But if you must have two POVs, then making one 3rd person and one 1st person is actually a good thing. It helps people keep track of where they are.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by Louise Curtis » November 2nd, 2010, 5:55 pm

PS - and your first person sections should be from the perspective of your main character, because why would you visit the internal thoughts of anyone else?
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » November 2nd, 2010, 6:33 pm

Thank you, CheekyChook, Steve, Holly, Louise.

I've been wrestling with, going over the different approaches.

I was trying to just choose third person, limited, through a supporting character and main character,
but the best way for most of the story to be told still strikes me as third person limited through the supporting character (who narrates parts about the main character that are hard to tell first person but that are too distant when the main character is "on")
and first person with the main character.

It's what, right now anyway, I want to do. I know it's tricky though. I may have to try it a few ways to be sure it can work.

I really appreciate your advice and thoughts. Thank you.

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

Post by cheekychook » November 2nd, 2010, 6:49 pm

Louise Curtis wrote:Having your story happen from two points of view is always difficult for a reader. If at all possible, don't do it - because it means you effectively have to get them hooked into two books, instead of one (and re-hook them over and over again - either that, or they'll simply skip every second section, because they only like the other one - which weakens your book horribly). But if you must have two POVs, then making one 3rd person and one 1st person is actually a good thing. It helps people keep track of where they are.
I actually disagree with this---and not just because my novel is told from multiple povs! I think it is, as most things writing/reading are, a matter of prefernce. Personally, as a reader I love books that offer multiple povs in all sorts of combinations. Not saying I don't enjoy a good first person story, but honestly I often find myself longing for a chapter from another character's perspective. As an example that many people will find familiar I'm one of those people who was fine with the Twilight series when Stephanie Meyer shifted from Bella's first person perspective to Jacobs---in fact, I was a reader who would have loved it if she'd done some chapters from Edward's pov as well since they are all primary characters.

In my opinion what throws readers is not offering different pov's it's not making it clear whose pov they're reading or hopping from one person's thoughts to another so the reader is never grounded. Clearly delineated pov switches can offer a depth and richness to both character development and the storyline---they don't have to detract from the reader's ability to connect with the characters, at all. If your characters are interesting and relatable and their storylines flow together your reader will be caught up in the story as a whole and will appreciate the insight into each character's thoughts. At least that's what I often enjoy in the books I choose to read.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by polymath » November 2nd, 2010, 7:17 pm

Novels I've read with mixed viewpoint grammatical persons put first-person passages in central characters' perceptions and cognitions for closest narrative distance to that character. Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs first-person passages are reported from Buffalo Bill's perspective, the villain of the piece. Clarice Starling, Hannibal Lecter, and Jack Crawford serve central roles reported in close third-person perspective passages, but not as close in narrative distance as Buffalo Bill.

In my estimation, mixed persons is good for closing in closest narrative distance to one central character, be it protagonist, main character at the center of all the dramatic action, observing and reporting and commentary expressing narrator, villain, or nemesis. Because by default first person presents potential for closest narrative distance, a first-person character as a general principle ought best be the reader surrogate. However, as evidenced by Harris' choice of Starling as reader surrogate and Buffalo Bill as first-person reported character, it's not a hard and fast rule.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by sierramcconnell » November 3rd, 2010, 2:01 pm

I totally enjoy multi-pov. It mixes things up. I write it, I read it. It's more fun that way. Granted, I still also read the occasional first-person-pov, I wonder what's going on in THAT GUY'S head. XD

I sorta have alternating in the way of journal entries. Bradley and Cael have journal entries in first person. But the book is in third.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by otherside89girl » November 3rd, 2010, 8:25 pm

Yes you can. MY NAME IS MEMORY by Ann Brashares is a good example of this. It's actually pretty tricky... there are two protagonists, and it switches from third person between each of them, and then sometimes goes into first person (when one of them is sharing his memories). And like you said, the switches are separated by chapter breaks. If you think you can pull it off, it's definitely interesting to read!

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

Post by HillaryJ » November 5th, 2010, 2:14 am

The most recent story I read with this was Devon Monk's Magic to the Bone. It's first person, from the MC's POV, but has a few (separated by chapter breaks) scenes in third person from a single other character's viewpoint. Those scenes are actually really lovely and powerful, but as a reader I found I was jarred by the transitions.
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Re: Can You Have Alternating Third Person/First Person?

Post by bcomet » November 5th, 2010, 3:11 pm

All of the comments and suggested reading/research novels to look at are great.
Thanks so much.

So, I took the third chapter, where my WiP deviates from limited third person and wrote it the way I first envisioned it, as third person without a pronoun gender distinction. It reads kind of strange.

Then I rewrote it using gender-distinct pronouns.

I rewrote it a third time from a first person POV. (using "I" I don't have to reveal gender.)

Then I compared the three. The gender distinctive version (#2) is premature (there is no gender identification yet.)
The first person POV (#3) is also premature (identity is yet too undeveloped to be an "I.")
Where it actually works for the story is the weird first version because the character needs to be less than a person, more of a thing or an animal or it and the character is also nowhere near a gender-distinction yet.

It's way complicated to write. It won't last the entire novel. But there is a huge character arc that will explore identity itself as well as gender identification later, as the story develops and the character identity progresses.
And, for now, this seems a way to go that allows sympathy for the character as well as shows its starting point.

Any thoughts about that?

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

Post by oldhousejunkie » November 5th, 2010, 8:08 pm

If it sounds better in first, then go for it!
My WIP features the female MC in first person, which a few secondary characters in third. I was warned by one of my betas to be careful about having too many characters in third, so I've cut it to the protag and two other third person main characters. I love writing in first because it allows me to get into my character's head. In fact, I recently went back to one of my stalled, past WIPs and found that I could no longer write the protag in third. It just didn't feel right. So it looks like I will eventually be re-writing that WIP to the first and third POVs. The only thing that I might be cautious about is writing in first person for the opposite gender. I read once that Jane Austen never wrote a scene that was only inhabited by men because she wouldn't know what went on when men were alone. I kind of take the same view...as a female, how would I know what goes on in a man's mind? :-)

Good luck with everything!

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

Post by Sara007 » November 8th, 2010, 11:54 am

I realize I'm months late to the party, but wanted to say I just read a book that I think successfully mastered this: HEART OF THE MATTER by Emily Giffen. It alternates between the MC, Tessa, and the (almost other MC) secondary MC, Valerie. Tessa is in 1st person and Valerie's in third. As someone said above, I did like Tessa more and was sometimes tempted to skip Valerie's chapters...but I never did b/c I wanted to know what made Valerie tick (she's having an affair with Tessa's husband - also maybe why I didn't like her!:)
Good luck!

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