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Mixing 3rd and 1st person... uniquely?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Trick, Dec 19, 2013.

  1. Trick

    Trick Auror

    So, I've been unable to write for sometime due to a ridiculous schedule but I have been habitually world building as I am wont to do. My WIP is in first person and I have no plans of changing that. It has two POV characters and is told in the form of their journals, switching back and forth every few chapters. I like how it reads thus far but with all my errant world building I've stumbled on an idea for a prologue. I was avoiding a prologue since I know many people don't even read them but i realized that my idea, though good (obviously I think so) wouldn't kill the book if someone didn't read it. My only remaining problem is that I do not want it to be another journal entry from someone who won't be heard from for at least fifteen more chapters. It would function something like the "Ice Monster Prologue" named after George R.R. Martin's opening for TSOIAF. It would be short and to the point and I think it can only work in 3rd person. It would even tie right into the beginning of chapter one (not chronologically but via setting). Would it be too jarring to switch from 3rd to 1st and then never switch back? I think I could possibly write it in 1st without the 'journal' preconception but I doubt its effectiveness. I feel that with 1st being so tight, the reader will expect to get to know the prologue POV right away and I can avoid that with 3rd.

    All thoughts more than welcome!
  2. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    Agatha Christie tried to switch narratives in some of her works. She's a pretty wonderful writer, but even with all of her skill it comes off as jarring and distracting.
  3. MFreako

    MFreako Troubadour

    Mark Lawrence does something similar in Emperor of Thorns, the final book of the Broken Empire trilogy. Most of the story is written from the first-person perspective of a single character—kind of like a journal, I guess—with the occasional third-person POV of a different character. Personally I didn't find it jarring at the least.

    What you're discussing, though, is a different matter. I'm not trying to put ideas in your head, the story is yours and you should tell it as you see fit, but I think I'd hate being thrust into the POV of a character only to find out later that he doesn't have much to do with the actual story. Some authros are known for it. GRRM with his prologue and epilogue characters he tends to kill off. Robert Jordan's WOT series begins with a prologue set hundreds of years before the main story. So sure, it can be done, but there has to be a good reason behind it (again, just my opinion). Ask yourself if it wouldn't be preferable to spread your prologue material throughout the main story in bits and pieces.

    As for multiple first-person POVS: I've never read anything like that, but I think I'd find it confusing. I'd suggest coming up with some sort of system to let readers know which character they're inhabiting (if you hadn't already), or switching to a third-person narrative.
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I've read a number of books that switch between first person viewpoints. Steven Brust and Emma Bull's Freedom and Necessity does it, and it is written as an epistolary novel. I think they each wrote one of the view point characters as letters to the other. Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf also switches first person narrators, and is supposed to be presented as journals as I recall. So I think that can work fine.

    As for the prologue idea, give it a shot and see how it works out. I don't have a problem with the idea in and of itself.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    In my opinion you can. I'm pretty sure I've read books where it's done the same way, though I can't think of which right now. I've read books where there's a switch where one character is told from a first person POV and the rest are third. If an author can pull that off without distracting the reader, I'm sure you can pull a switch from third to first, and never go back.
  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Having a prologue in 3rd person, then the rest of the novel in 1st person, journal form, shouldn't be a problem.

    In two of my novels, Starting with the 2nd chapter, I have what I call chapter starts. They're set off by italics. While the rest of the novel(s) are in first person, the chapter starts are in 3rd person.

    With my first novel, Flank Hawk, the chapter starts offer a separate storyline, which gives background in how the post apocalyptic fantasy setting came to be, and merges with the main storyline in Chapter 28. In my most recent novel Relic Tech the chapter starts run throughout the novel and offer relevant facts and background relevant to current events in the storyline.

    The chapters starts are short, from two paragraphs to half a page. I've not had any readers complain about them, although there have been a few that it took a few chapters to figure out. Most enjoy them, and some thought they should've been longer.

    When my first novel was made into an audiobook, the chapter starts translated well enough, as I had them set off by listing a date several thousand years prior to the novel main storyline each time. With my most recent novel (in production now) the narrator is using a British accent to set the chapter starts off from the main narrative.

    With all of that being said, that's why I believe a good prologue (yes, you acknowledged some don't read them) in 3rd person, it won't hurt the novel and may very well add to its quality.
    Trick likes this.
  7. Trick

    Trick Auror

    Thanks to all for the responses!

    Good points and one of my worries. To combat this problem I was thinking that the prologue would be 3rd omniscient, which I'm not against for short sections. A whole book of it is terribly draining but a few pages I find acceptable. The POVC of the prologue, if you could really even call him that, is not killed off by any means and he is important to the story. He just won't come up again for many chapters. The institution mentioned in the prologue, of which he is the founder, is already a main theme in the book. Do you think that should help or might it still be a dissappointment to the reader to wait for resolution from the prologue?

    Problem solved. The MC POV is 4/5 of the book and the other POV chapters start with, "From the journal of..." and a date. The formality of that intro works perfectly with the character too.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2013

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