Point of view switch in flashback.

by Mark
(New York )

Question: My story is in first person POV, but I need to flashback to a scene in another character's perspective. Rather than have this character tell in exposition, I'd prefer to write the flashback event in "real time" in the other character's POV. First, would this be acceptable? Second, might you have an example of how to transition into the second POV?


Answer: You are certainly free to use a flashback. You can find plenty of successful novels where it happens.

Some readers find the technique a little jarring, which is why it may be better to find a different way to convey the information. But a flashback is often the best option if you don't want your main character to know about this event, for purposes of dramatic irony.

Most often, you will see a scene like this as a prologue or epilogue. Putting it in the middle of a novel is more problematic because you will be interrupting the flow of the main character's narrative. If it is information that the main character must find out, some alternatives include putting it in a journal entry or letter that the main character finds, or having it appear in a dream (if your main character happens to be psychic). Fantasy writers have so many options here.

Bare minimum, you should probably give this scene its own chapter. Any other clues that can let the reader know you've changed points of view would be helpful. Sometimes an obvious clue, such as naming the chapter something like "Kesha's Story," or starting the chapter with a date (to show the time shift) works well, even if it's not terribly subtle. It would also help if the second character expresses himself in a different style of writing.

Incidentally, there's nothing wrong with putting this chapter in past tense, or third person, or even italics (if it's short). These are also ways of signalling to the reader that a different voice has taken over.

Comments for Point of view switch in flashback.

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Flashbacks/memories of MC
by: Dena

If the book is a story retold ... the 3rd POV a narrator acting as the one who is telling the story about a woman, whose character and actions are a result of her past,
That past, her past, I would like to write in flashback scenes in the 1st person as it is her, the MC that is having this memory.

Example > Her eyes hurt and she feels herself falling into an old memory:
...I can see him laying there dead. I am so sad.....

It seems to weaken it to have the memory told from the same 3rd POV narrator as the rest of the story.

The memories and flashhbacks are integral to how this MC developes.

thanks for any further tips

to: Dena
by: Glen

There is a tradeoff between first and third person narration. First person takes you deeper into the mind of the main character -- which is what you're referring to here. Third person gives more objectivity.

However, it is also jarring to switch back and forth between two different narrative voices. Abrupt and frequent switches take the reader out of the story. It's like an actor breaking character. You never want to confuse your reader about whose POV they are supposed to be in.

In some cases, writers have opted to create a character narrator who tells the story in the present but inserts documents he/she may have collected when researching the story -- such as a character's diary or letters. Such passages can be written in first person and convey greater intimacy with the character. These documents may appear italicized to make it clear to the reader that a different narrative mode is being used.

One example is the YA book Thirteen Reasons Why which features two narratives running at the same time. The first is the main character in the present who is listening to tape recordings. The second is the impact character's voice on the tape. (In my opinion, the switching between voices happens almost too frequently in this book, but it's a good example of pushing this technique to its limit.

At any rate, it is best if you switch infrequently and make the transitions clear to the reader.

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