From first to third Person

by Katie
(Minnesota)

Question: In fiction novels, does it usually seem strange to switch from first to third person, chapters by chapters, if the change is clear? How about if the first person is present tense (I am, I do), and the third person is past tense (He was, he did)? Does this seem confusing or interesting? Thank you.


Answer: You need to be clear about why you are doing this.

For instance, it's fine if your main character is describing his/her experience in first person present narration, if you want the immediacy and intimacy that mode creates.

But who is telling the story when you switch to third person past? Because perhaps now you're telling the story from the perspective of someone who is not part of the story world and for whom these events have already concluded? In other words, this is more the writer's perspective.

Sometimes this is fine. For instance, if you want to create dramatic irony (where the reader knows more than the main character), you might switch from the main character's perspective to let the reader in on a few things the main character doesn't know.

Or maybe you don't want the reader to identify too closely with the main character, so stepping back sometimes creates a little distance between them.

Or maybe you want part of the story told by a character who is part of the story world and tells the story years after the events have happened, perhaps because this character can frame things in a way the main character can't.

But again, you should have a reason why both these perspectives matter -- why each makes an important contribution to the telling of the story. And that should be clear to the person reading the story.

Otherwise, you should probably stick with one perspective.

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