Mixing Point of View: Multiple Person
Point of view is a key part of the story you’re telling. If you’ve decided to write in third-person you don’t agonise over what perspective to write each scene in. But what if you wanted to have more than one perspective?
The general consensus seems to be to stick to one perspective format. Such as only write your story in third-person or first-person. Choose one that works for your book and stick with it throughout. I’m inclined to disagree. Like most aspects of writing, when it’s done well it can really work. Swapping from first-person to third is probably the most common that you’ll see, but it’s not unheard of to throw a couple of second-person elements into your first-person story. In general, you won’t see many people going away from third-person into something else.
First and Third
One of the most common things that I’ve seen out there in relation to this topic is people saying that if a scene doesn’t happen to your protagonist (your first-person) then it isn’t important to the story. While I understand where they’re coming from, I don’t necessarily agree with it. So many people and events impact on that one person’s story. There are ways that you can write the information into it without swapping to third-person, but doing that isn’t the devil that so many people say it is. Putting a few third-person chapters into your book that outline some of the world that you’ve built, events that are going on and influencing the main story or characters that are important to the overall product can be an interesting way to tell the story. If you’re going to do it, I’d say you should probably keep the two different perspectives separate; have different chapters or sections for first and third-person.
I really like digging this hole.
The demon deep beneath the earth licked his lips each time that Jim forced his spade into the ground.
First and Second
I’ve grown to really like putting second-person elements into a first-person story. If I’m honest, I hadn’t heard of second-person until another writer showed me one of their stories, which was written in both first and second-person. The narrator and the reader were the two main characters in the story. It was certainly something that I’d never read before. But the power to draw your audience into the story in a way that cannot be done otherwise is a powerful tool. In contrast to first and third, however, I wouldn’t have designated chapters or sections of second-person. I’d sprinkle elements of it into the first-person narrative or combine the two throughout.
I don’t know what’s happening. Why did you do that?
Third-person is an odd perspective in this context. You don’t really need to leave it. If you want to show something that’s going on away from your protagonist you just do it. That’s one of the main benefits of third-person. The ability to float around the story and tell the whole picture. Having said that, you can still do some interesting and different things when leaving third-person. If you added second-person elements you could have it as the narrator is watching with the reader, bringing them into the story and doing some intriguing fourth-wall-breaking elements. The reader and the writer are watching the events unfold together, completely unable to influence anything that’s happening.
My personal favourite however is to tell a first-person story under the guise of a third-person one. Normally, third-person narrators are nameless, faceless watchers. They don’t and can’t interact with anything. But what if they weren’t? What if the narrator could actually interact with the story that they’re telling? Have a first-person narrator telling a third-person story.
Jim put down the spade. I wouldn’t have done that. He’s sweating.
I really like doing this. Swapping perspective is something that I probably do a bit too often. But it’s something that I enjoy as a writer and as a reader. It allows you to do things that you couldn’t do otherwise. Now, having said that, you need to ask yourself a question:
Should I be doing this?
Am I adding extra story because I want to tell it or because it needs to be told? If it needs to be told, then go for it. If it doesn’t, then you probably don’t need to put it in there. There may be other ways to get the information into your narrative without jumping around. Because there are some drawbacks to doing this.
It can be really clunky, hard to follow and jarring. It can bring people out of the story, make you more prone to doing a massive exposition dump on your reader and you can clog your story with irrelevant information. But, much like so many other elements with writing, if you do a good job, it doesn’t matter what you do. You could invent a sixth person perspective, write your entire book in a random language you made up and do it all backwards and it can still be good. If you do a good enough job. Adding nonstandard elements makes it harder, but if you’re up for the task, go for it. Have fun with your writing. And experience new things. Except for the sixth person thing, don’t do that. Ever.
© 2016 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.