mixing first and third person POV

by chynna
(Philippines)

Question: I'm just curious whether or not it's okay to mix the first person and third person POV in a novel?

Like for example, the story is about the narrator (1st person POV) leaving the country and there are really some important scenes that needs to be tackled by the other characters in the absence of the narrator. Would it be okay to write those scenes in third person POV?

Because I read that some publishers wanted writers to stick to one POV in the entire story or they will not accept it.

Thanks :)

Answer: It's pretty common for writers to switch to a different POV on occasion. In a story that's primarily told from the main character's POV, this technique may be used to create dramatic irony (where the reader finds out something the main character doesn't). Prologues and epilogues are the most common places where a different perspective is introduced.

Some stories are told from multiple points of view all the way through. In such books, each POV character is more fully developed and acts as the main character of their own story, so the book becomes more like a collection of stories that share a common, overall story.

It is true that there is a bias towards having one main character, one POV, because it makes it easier for the reader feel a close connection with one character. This is especially true in YA or children's fiction.

However, you can't be too rigid about such things. It depends very much on the requirements of your story.

Comments for mixing first and third person POV

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Apr 23, 2013
thanks
by: Anonymous

Thanks a lot for the help...
You're always very accommodating to newbies like me.. :)

Sep 03, 2013
Just Chapter 1?
by: Anonymous

I had the same question as above, except that I was wondering if the same concept would apply if I only used third-person with the first chapter (which at first was a preface, but then turned into chapter 1) and then first person the rest of the way. Chapter 1 is told from the point of view of one of the antagonists, and includes his own internal dialogue and thoughts towards the protagonist, who he sees but does not encounter in the chapter. I believe it's necessary for the readers to know his internal dialogue, but having it as a preface didn't seem right--it was quite long, and a lot of people don't bother with the preface. Having his perspective as first person just wouldn't seem right.
What are your thoughts on this?

Sep 04, 2013
Response
by: Glen

There is a chance a reader might find the transition from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 a little disconcerting. Readers tend to latch onto the first POV character they encounter.

Also, it depends a little on the genre. YA and middle grade fiction tends to have characters who resemble the ideal reader, to create immediate empathy. In this case, you're beginning with a character who, I presume, you don't want the reader to empathize with too much, which might be a weaker choice.

You might consider if you can convey the same information in a flashback or some other device later in the book.

However, one can never give a definite answer because so much depends on how you do it. Your creative use of the device matters more than the device itself.

Sep 09, 2013
Thanks!
by: Anonymous

Thank you for your insight! I think I'm going to put the third-person segment as a preface instead. I will have to figure something out for Chapter 1--I've been stuck on it for ages!

Sep 10, 2013
inquiry about chapter 1..
by: chynna

Chapter 1 for me is the hardest...
Wish you the best of luck in doing your story~

I'm quite curious though.. I read somewhere that the first chapter, or even the first few lines of chapter 1 somehow makes or breaks the story. It's like you use those to hook the readers in your book, that's why it's too important to have a catchy first liners..

Do you have any tips on how we can make our first few lines of chapter 1 catchy or unique?

Sep 10, 2013
First chapters
by: Glen

Generally, you want to get the reader involved in the story in the first paragraph. This can be done by such techniques as...

Establishing a unique and intriguing narrative voice.

Introducing a character and getting the reader involved in that character's dilemma.

Starting with an event (either action or decision) that drives the character in a new direction.

Starting with a surprising idea.

Using specific details to create immediacy.

And above all... avoid preamble.

Sep 12, 2013
thanks!
by: chynna

That's cool! I'll use your tips~~~

Aug 23, 2015
first person POV for main character
by: Chris Bieniek

chapter 1 is first person POV, main character. chapter 2 is a new character 3rd person. now I'm back to main character in chapter 3, interacting with multiple people. can I switch my main character to third person POV for the rest of the book?

Aug 23, 2015
To Chris:
by: Glen

Can you switch to 3rd person narration?

Of course your could. The question is whether you should. Not to mention, why would you?

It would be a little disconcerting for the reader to have the intimate connection to the main character in chapter one that first person narration creates, and then never have it again -- rather like having a moment in which you become best friends with someone, who from then on treats you like a distant acquaintance.

It also breaks the narrative conceit. If the reader assumes in Chapter 1 that the main character is telling his story directly to them, either in a letter or perhaps face to face, then what is happening in Chapter 3? It would seem as though another storyteller (the narrator) has stepped in and taken over.

I suggest you have one consistent narrative mode for your main character's POV. Either stick with first person, or go back and revise Chapter 1 to be third person -- whichever is more effective.

(The exception would be if you come up with a really clever reason why the mode changes that fits the story and that is explained to the reader at some point.)

Best of luck.

Aug 30, 2016
The Final Word?
by: F. Armstrong Green

Anyone serious about writing should read the excellent chapter on first-person narrators by David Morrell, the best-selling author of First Blood et al., in his What I Learned from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft (https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Lifetime-Writing-Novelist-Looks/dp/1582972702).

Dec 16, 2016
3rd Person POV to 1st and back again
by: Anonymous

My entire YA novel is in 3rd person, editor suggests the following:

Original sentence: Was she dead? She didn’t feel dead.

In this instance, it’s clearly Elizabeth doing the wondering about her physical state, although it’s in the narrator’s "voice." It’s a much more powerful passage to have a little girl wondering about whether she’s dead or alive than to have the narrator pass this information on. The remedy is this:

Revised sentence: Am I dead? I don’t feel dead.

Suggestions like this throughout! Really?

Thanks!




Dec 17, 2016
To Anonymous
by: Glen

Suggestion:

Use the editor's version, but italicize the two sentences to indicate they are the character's thoughts. Then continue in 3rd person.

Obviously, I can't comment on the other suggestions, but one hopes one has an editor one can trust. In any case, pick your battles.

Best of luck.

Apr 08, 2018
What if the novel has two different perspectives/stories?
by: Randy

I have written a novel that is mostly from 1st person perspective primarily because I did want to draw in the reader more intimately with the main character. There is however a parallel story that is occurring that the main character would not be aware of initially. In those chapters it made more sense to narrate the story from a third person perspective. This results in the novel being about 2/3 first person and 1/3 third person. Would this be too confusing and damaging to the flow of the overall story?

Apr 09, 2018
to Randy
by: Glen

What you have to do is ask yourself if your chosen narrative mode is confusing or damaging to the flow. Or get some people to read the manuscript and see if they have a problem with it.

It's not about your chosen mode, it's about how you use it. If it's always clear to the reader whose perspective they are in, and the story is engaging, that's what matters.

Apr 09, 2018
Reliable or Unreliable?
by: F. Armstrong Green

The most important thing to realize is that a first person narrator must be unreliable for its use to be justified. As the subjective narrator the whole story is subject to the first-person's inability to be objective the way the all knowing, omniscient narrator is by its nature. Google for first-person narrators. You will find a long list of unreliable narrators, some of which you surely will have read and which will ring a bell. Read Ring Lardner's "Haircut" as the most clear cut instance of why a first-person narrator is by nature unreliable. Other good examples in short stories are Poe's "The Black Cat" and Truman Capote's "Jug of Silver." A couple of novels you may find instructive and certainly entertaining are Ken Kesey's ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and Robert Grave's I, CLAUDIUS. If you want to write in first person you should read every unreliable first person narrator you can find, just as you would study the best of genre works you may want to work in before you tackle them.

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