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Use of First Person, Third Person and Transitions

tendres

I'm working on my first story, and grappling with different points of view. I started in third person for an overall view, but I see many stories told from a first person point of view. Obviously the first person helps readers connect with the character. I understand transitions could lose readers if not done well.

Do you have any advice on this? Or perhaps some links to articles on the topic you recommend?

Thanks in advance.

Ernest Bywater

Where I've transitioned between characters when using the first person, I've done so as a new chapter or sub-chapter with a heading to make it clear it's a different person and who it is. Mt story Rough Diamond is one such story you can read as an example.

http://storiesonline.net/s/59645/rough-diamond

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

This subject was discussed at my writers' group today and they came to pretty much the same conclusion. Make clear delimitations when switching viewpoints, preferably chapter level.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with multiple 1st person characters. The views expressed seemed to assume 3rd person for head-hopping. In fact, using the 1st person in general seems to be falling out of fashion, the implication being that they're alive to tell the tale, lessening the suspense.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@tendres

There are 3 POVs (not counting 2nd-POV):

1. 1st-person

2. 3rd-person limited

3. 3rd-person omniscient (can also be 1st-person omni)

1st and 3rd-limited are basically the same except for the pronouns.

I'd strongly suggest you do not switch POVs in 1st-person. To me, it defeats the purpose of writing in 1st. And the voice of the POV character will need to be so unique the reader will know who it is without being told. That's very hard.

In omniscient, the narrator is in the omniscient narrator's POV. You cannot get into any character's head, but the narrator can tell you what they're thinking.

As I said earlier, 3rd-limited follows the same rules as 1st-person (you can only tell the reader what that character sees, thinks, hears, etc.). But in 3rd-limited you can switch POVs at a scene change (which is typically a chapter but you can have multiple scenes within a chapter often separated with an "* * * *").

Some authors switch between 1st-person and 3rd-omniscient within the same story, but if you're a new author I'd recommend against doing that.

Replies:   Slutsinger
G Younger

Pick one and stick with it. I started out writing first person stories. Recently I tried to write a third person one ... wow - that turned out bad. It is hard to switch back and forth in a writing style for a beginner. You get used to writing I or me and have to switch to he or him. When you are in the flow of writing you tend to do what you are used to.

In a lot of ways I wish I'd started writing third person. It would've given me a lot more flexibility in switching between characters within a section of a story. Sometimes you need to know what everyone is thinking to get a point across.

It can be done with first person, but they are right ... you have to do it with a clear break, like a chapter, if you switch characters.

Bondi Beach

@tendres

I'm working on my first story, and grappling with different points of view. I started in third person for an overall view, but I see many stories told from a first person point of view. Obviously the first person helps readers connect with the character. I understand transitions could lose readers if not done well.


For transitions, between third-person and first-person, at the chapter or section level, look at any of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander volumes.

For clean transitions from one third-person limited* POV to another, always at the chapter level, check out any of the George R. R. Martin "Game of Thrones" (Song of Ice and Fire) novels. The reader always knows whose POV it is.

*Some may be omniscient; I can't remember for sure.

bb

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

The views expressed seemed to assume 3rd person for head-hopping.

Generally, to avoid '3rd person head hopping', it's best to stick with 3rd person limited, which means you tell the story in 3rd person, but no character ever knows what the others are thinking, planning, intending to do, so no references to the intentions of third party characters.

A lot of 3rd party perspective depends upon the identity of the 3rd party narrator. Is it 3rd unlimited, essentially God looking down from on high, passing judgment on the fallacies of man? Is it one of the many characters, looking back from some point in the future? Or is it a third party, reflecting what they've learned over time from speaking to the people directly involved in the story. Each requires a different approach to telling the story.

Crumbly Writer

@G Younger

In a lot of ways I wish I'd started writing third person. It would've given me a lot more flexibility in switching between characters within a section of a story. Sometimes you need to know what everyone is thinking to get a point across.

It's best if you start fresh with an entirely new story, and keep reminding yourself who's talking (the narrator), what they know and what their motivations/drives are. It can be tough to switch, but it's better to do it once and get over the hump, rather than keep repeating failed attempts that never go anywhere. :(

Replies:   G Younger
G Younger

@Crumbly Writer

It can be tough to switch, but it's better to do it once and get over the hump, rather than keep repeating failed attempts that never go anywhere. :(


I agree. Eventually I will get there.

Lumpy

I also started out writing first person with my first story, just because it felt more natural and was easier for me.

I am attempting to write from the 3rd person for an upcoming story, since 1st person limits you from jumping to other areas/people outside of the main characters POV, which I started finding limiting.

I agree with G Younger, it is hard to switch once you get used to a one style.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@G Younger

In a lot of ways I wish I'd started writing third person. It would've given me a lot more flexibility in switching between characters within a section of a story. Sometimes you need to know what everyone is thinking to get a point across.


I tend to switch between the first person and third person styles, based on which I think will carry the story I'm telling better, but tend to stay with the one style within the story. I have found third person gives you more room to maneuver within the story because first person limits you to what that character knows.

Crumbly Writer

@Lumpy

I am attempting to write from the 3rd person for an upcoming story, since 1st person limits you from jumping to other areas/people outside of the main characters POV, which I started finding limiting.

Another thing to be cautious of is whether you're using 3rd person omni or limited. If the entire story focuses on one main character, then you're by definition dealing with limited, not omni, something I hadn't realized until it was pointed out to me. Just because you want to write it one way doesn't mean it is!

Replies:   Switch Blayde  Lumpy
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


If the entire story focuses on one main character, then you're by definition dealing with limited, not omni,


Not true.

You can change the POV character in 3rd-limited at a scene change. It's only focused on one character within a scene, not necessarily the entire story. Some call it 3rd-person limited multiple when you have more than one POV character, but it's still 3rd-limited (vs omni).

The important thing to know about omni is that you're never in any character's head. It's always the omni narrator telling the story.

Crumbly Writer

You weren't paying attention to my response. My story was primarily about a single character (i.e. the story was told from his perspective, but I referred to what other characters were doing because I was writing in 3rd person omni). I got chastised for relating things the main character would never know. Apparently limited isn't defined by intent, but by content.

After that, I researched it. I couldn't find anyone saying that 3rd person limited is required for a single character focus, but it makes sense once I thought it through.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Slutsinger

@Switch Blayde

I've seen the claim several times that you cannot get into the head of any character in 3rd onmi. What does that mean and why not? I suspect I'm having a semantics issue with what it means to "get into a head".

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Slutsinger

I'd question the claim that first person makes it easier for the reader to connect with a character. At least in professionally published fiction I've read, I don't find that to be true. There are different ways in which I connect with a third-person section of a story than a first-person narrative...but it's not depth of connection. Most of my stories here are third limited, but the one I'm posting now is first person. I chose that because I wanted the reader to focus on the changes in the character, and because I wanted to focus on the flaws of the narrator--the ways in which they skew what is going on. I found that easier to do in first person. Besides, I had gotten experienced enough with third person that I was ready to try first-person and see where it went. I'm struggling with POV for the next story.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Slutsinger

I'm struggling with POV for the next story.

If you want a real challenge, try 23rd person limited with a twist. ;-D It's akin to writing in the 6th dimension while surrounded by bees.

Slutsinger, what they mean isn't that readers can't get into the character's head, but that it's better if the authors doesn't reveal the characters' actual thoughts, instead either showing what the thinks by how they respond, or revealing what they think. Again, in 3rd person the narrator isn't the character, so even if it's God writing the story, they wouldn't be in their mind at the time.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Apparently limited isn't defined by intent, but by content.


I guess I don't understand what you're saying.

First, 3rd-limited, and omni are POVs. That's it. Whose POV is the scene (or even story) in?

With 1st and 3rd-limited, it's a character in the story. So when you read, "The bell rang loud," it's the POV character for that scene that is hearing the bell. If the POV character wasn't in a position to hear the bell ringing, you can't say it rang.

Now in omni, the narrator is not a character in a story. He could tell you "John heard the bell ringing loud" or even "The bell rang loud, but John couldn't hear it because..." The omni narrator knows all.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Slutsinger


you cannot get into the head of any character in 3rd onmi. What does that mean and why not?


"Getting into the head" is hearing their thoughts.

What am I going to do now? Joe thought.

You're in Joe's head. You can do that if Joe is the POV character. But you can only hear Joe's thoughts. The following is called head-hopping (jumping from one character's thoughts to another):

That girl keeps looking at me, Joe thought.

Sue eyeballed Joe. I wish that guy would come over here, she thought.

Now in omni, you can't hear what any character is thinking (e.g., "he thought") because none of the scenes is in their POV, but the omni narrator can tell you. For example:

Joe wondered why that girl was looking at him. He didn't know it, but she wanted him to come over.

Here's the best article I've read on it:

http://thewritepractice.com/head-hopping-and-hemingway/

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

so even if it's God writing the story, they wouldn't be in their mind at the time.


I find that statement absurd. God could very well be directly observing the thoughts of every character.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

I find that statement absurd. God could very well be directly observing the thoughts of every character.


Exactly. But the reader can't so God (omni narrator) has to tell them.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Now in omni, you can't hear what any character is thinking (e.g., "he thought") because none of the scenes is in their POV, but the omni narrator can tell you. For example:

Joe wondered why that girl was looking at him. He didn't know it, but she wanted him to come over.


Except a true omniscient narrator could tell the thoughts of a principle in a quotational manner, just as dialog is related.

It may well be considered poor form by professional editors, but to suggest that it couldn't be done by an omni narrator if you were sitting down with that narrator around a camp fire and hearing the story by spoken word is ridiculous.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Now in omni, the narrator is not a character in a story. He could tell you "John heard the bell ringing loud" or even "The bell rang loud, but John couldn't hear it because..." The omni narrator knows all.

All I can say is, I write in 3rd person omni, but was corrected when an editor pointed out that the entire story revolves around one primary character, so I'm not allowed to reveal what others not in the scene are doing, or how those in the scene feel or think, regardless of who's supposedly telling the story.

Previously, I was under the impression that if one character in the story is later telling the story of what happened to everyone, then he (the narrator) could detail what everyone said and did. Note: the story she critiqued didn't have a specifically named narrator, though.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Exactly. But the reader can't so God (omni narrator) has to tell them.

But the key is, the narrator tells them, rather then having each character 'think' it. In Omni 3rd, even God has his limits! :)

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

It may well be considered poor form by professional editors, but to suggest that it couldn't be done by an omni narrator if you were sitting down with that narrator around a camp fire and hearing the story by spoken word is ridiculous.

Here are some examples:

Joe (secondary character) interrupts Sue (primary character, thinking 'She's really a stupid bitch!' Incorrect

Joe (same circumstances) interrupts Sue, thinking she was a stupid bitch. Valid

In short, it's a common sense way of keeping track of who the narrator and characters are.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Here are some examples:

Joe (secondary character) interrupts Sue (primary character, thinking 'She's really a stupid bitch!' Incorrect


I mostly agree that that is poor story telling form.

However, when you say things like:

In Omni 3rd, even God has his limits!


That's just bullshit.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

One of the things about 3rd person is it allows you the flexibility to provide detail outside what any individual character knows. Although some people like to talk about 3rd person omni and 3rd person limited the end result is the author can do just about whatever they want in 3rd person because the difference between the two is more a personal perception than the sort of clear cut variation you get from first person to 3rd person.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

but was corrected when an editor pointed out that the entire story revolves around one primary character, so I'm not allowed to reveal what others not in the scene are doing, or how those in the scene feel or think, regardless of who's supposedly telling the story.


That editor is wrong. The omni narrator can tell the reader as much or as little as he wants. One of the dangers of writing in omni is telling the reader too much so maybe that's what the editor was thinking. Or maybe the editor wasn't familiar with omni since it's not used much today.

Previously, I was under the impression that if one character in the story is later telling the story of what happened to everyone, then he (the narrator) could detail what everyone said and did.


That can happen in a 1st-person story. In Stephen King's The Green Mile, the 1st-person narrator says stuff like, "I found out later after reading the report that..."

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Although some people like to talk about 3rd person omni and 3rd person limited the end result is the author can do just about whatever they want in 3rd person because the difference between the two is more a personal perception than the sort of clear cut variation you get from first person to 3rd person.


I'll agree with "the author can do whatever he wants." It's the author's story. He can jump from 1st to omni, head-hop, etc. If he pulls it off, kudos to him.

But I don't agree with, "the difference between the two is more a personal perception than the sort of clear cut variation you get from first person to 3rd person." The difference between 1st and third is POV. The difference between 3rd-limited and 3rd-omni is POV. It's not perception. There are rules on how to write the POV "correctly." I put "correctly" in quotes because, as I agreed with you earlier, the author can do whatever he wants. Just like grammar rules can be broken.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Lumpy

@Crumbly Writer

I am trying to do limited 3rd person, but occasionally breaking off to be able to show other events away from the main character (so, if the MC is present, it's always limited to him, but at times I want to show places where the MC isn't around).

Switch Blayde

@Lumpy

I am trying to do limited 3rd person, but occasionally breaking off to be able to show other events away from the main character (so, if the MC is present, it's always limited to him, but at times I want to show places where the MC isn't around).


If you follow the rules, you cannot do that.

The easiest way to do that in 3rd-limited is to switch POV characters at a scene change. So if you want the villain to plant a car bomb and have the suspense of the main POV character ready to turn the ignition, have a scene in the villain's POV planting the bomb and then another scene in the main character's POV getting ready to start the car.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

That's just bullshit.

My example might be a tad overdone, but given people frequently link 3rd person omni narrators as being 'all knowing', akin to being 'God like' in their knowledge of the subject, I extended the similarity. Thus even if your narrator is God himself, it's considered poor form to have him revealing what a character is thinking, though he can declare what they're thinking.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Crumbly Writer

@Lumpy

I am trying to do limited 3rd person, but occasionally breaking off to be able to show other events away from the main character (so, if the MC is present, it's always limited to him, but at times I want to show places where the MC isn't around).

That's the main advantage of 3rd person narratives. It gives you greater freedom in writing to jump back and forth. It sounds like 3rd person limited is the perfect format for you.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


The difference between 3rd-limited and 3rd-omni is POV.


Switch,

I think this is another where we have to agree to disagree. Everything I've been taught or read on how to write identifies 3rd person POV as being a third person external to the action describing what they see, thus they can see everything and recount as much or as little of what they see as they wish in the narrative. This is much the same as sitting in the top of the grandstand to watch a sporting event while using a pair of quality binoculars to get a better view, you can focus on a specific player closely or lower the binoculars to have a wider view of the field, or even use your eyes to concentrate on one section of the field. In all three cases the observer is sitting up there able to watch it all, but chooses to only comment on part while relating the events - much the same way the broadcasters at the event do.

edit to add: In the 3rd person it's possible for the narrator to also know what the characters are thinking and include them if they're relevant, but it's, again, down to what the narrator wishes to include.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

My example might be a tad overdone,


The problem was with what you said about the example. Saying something is poor form/poor story telling is not the same thing as saying an omni narrator has limits.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Everything I've been taught or read on how to write identifies 3rd person POV as being a third person external to the action describing what they see, thus they can see everything and recount as much or as little of what they see as they wish in the narrative.


Yes, that's the omniscient narrator.

But you don't have an external person in 3rd-limited. 3rd-limited is the same as 1st-person except for the pronouns. (Well, the narrative could be much more informal in 1st-person - e.g., Huck Finn.)

Switch Blayde

And then there's "close 3rd-person POV."

Notice the difference between:
1. She watched him swagger out the door.
2. He swaggered out the door.

#2 is close 3rd-person.

Authors often look at their characters from the outside and record their actions. I always say showing is like watching the action from a camera. But if you take that literally you get #1.

But to write in close 3rd-person, the author gets inside the character and records what they see, hear, etc.

With #1, you distance yourself from the character. With #2, you are the character.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

With #1, you distance yourself from the character. With #2, you are the character.

I can actually imagine several uses for #1's "close 3rd-person POV".

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I can actually imagine several uses for #1's "close 3rd-person POV".


It's the current trend. Of course it doesn't work with omni since the narrator is telling you what she sees, hears, thinks, etc.

It's also why it's important to get the POV right in 3rd-limited (no head-hopping). The entire scene is from the POV character's perspective. Close-3rd only works that way.

Harold Wilson

@tendres

Simple advice: don't do that!

Tom Clancy is probably the most recently famous author of multiple-POV books. He wrote these f**king enormous tomes, and they all had location/situation/time and date information at the start of each chapter. Even then, people didn't always get it.

I've seen authors try limited forms of this here on SOL. In general, they want to convey ONE LAST THING, that they couldn't quite figure out how to put in from the main character's POV. (Sometimes they just write a 3rd person intro and then change mid-paragraph to 1st. I generally just close the tab and abandon the story at that point.)

It's rarely needed. That one extra fact you want to convey probably won't change anyone's opinion of the story, nor will it be the dramatic conclusion that wins you the Nobel prize for Literature.

If you have to convey that crucial piece of information, then write one more phone call scene, or conversation at the bar, or whatever it takes, and let someone tell the main character so the readers overhear it. Or write the whole story in 3rd - David Weber does it, and he's published millions of words.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Harold Wilson

Simple advice: don't do that!

I agree with your advice in general, especially for first time writers.
I know this author and encouraged them to post their question here, mainly to clarify the limitations of various POVs.
Their intention (at least now) is a short introduction about the circumstances of MC's birth on a alien world. That will be in 3-POV and the remainder in 1-POV.
I assume you would not advise against that?

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Their intention (at least now) is a short introduction about the circumstances of MC's birth on a alien world. That will be in 3-POV and the remainder in 1-POV.


That's what prologues are for. And having a 3rd-person prologue in a 1st-person story is the way it's supposed to be.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

That's what prologues are for.

Thanks. I had suggested calling it a prologue.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

Their intention (at least now) is a short introduction about the circumstances of MC's birth on a alien world.


If your author were to go on a Creative Writing Course, they would be encouraged to embed such details within the main body of the story as they become relevant.

I have to confess to using prologues on some of my longer SciFi stories, but then I'm an enthusiastic amateur rather an expert.

AJ

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

a Creative Writing Course, they would be encouraged to embed such details within the main body of the story as they become relevant.


Sometimes you need information at the get-go to understand the story or character. One example I read was Spider Man. If you don't know what happened to his uncle you don't understand the Spider Man's character/motivations. So his uncle's murder would be in a prologue.

Prologues have a bad name because often they are an info dump. The prologue has to be written and engaging as the story.

awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

So his uncle's murder would be in a prologue.


I beg to differ - that's the sort of thing they recommend isn't put into a prologue because it's so easy to weave seamlessly into the main body of the story.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That's what prologues are for. And having a 3rd-person prologue in a 1st-person story is the way it's supposed to be.

Even better, play around with it, have someone else, say a psychiatrist interviewing the MC, ask about his background. That way you mix 3rd person, to capture everyone's reactions, dialogue rather than plain dry backstory, and you can recap his entire background while having the two characters play off each other.

The key, whether you use that approach or not, is to move away from 'recounted' descriptions and make them either more dynamic. In this case (or some other) having the two characters interact can reveal the sort of person he's grown up to be before the story even begins.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I have to confess to using prologues on some of my longer SciFi stories, but then I'm an enthusiastic amateur rather an expert.

Prologue are fine, especially when readers expect them, as they do with sci-fi, however, you want to shy away from 'data dumps' where you're simply showing off how much research you did on some alien world. That's why dialogue, an action scene, or a flash back are all good ways of setting up the story with a quick start, rather than a dry 'read this before continuing' piece. (Results vary with various approaches).

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Prologues have a bad name because often they are an info dump. The prologue has to be written and engaging as the story.

There are several keys to prologues. First of all, it's the first thing readers will see, so if the prologue isn't the strongest writing in the entire story, it doesn't belong at the start.

Secondly, most people won't read them, simply skipping over them. Thus you can't depend on them, but you instead have to bribe readers into reading them. I often do this by providing information about the characters that readers would never get any other way. In my "Catalyst" series, I revealed in the prologue details about the character's undiscovered powers he didn't understand yet. Thus, readers who read the prologue would encourage the MC what to do to figure out what's going on. It's a way to interest the readers in the story.

Third, as point #2 established, the story needs to work without readers reading the story. Thus while it may reveal important information, the entire needs to make sense without anyone reading it.

Finally, different genres have readers more used to prologues. Sci-fi, most will read the prologue. Romance novels, forget it, no one will. Historic drama, some will, some won't.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I beg to differ - that's the sort of thing they recommend isn't put into a prologue because it's so easy to weave seamlessly into the main body of the story.

It's easier to dump it in the prologue, it takes considerable skill to weave it into an ongoing story while making it as captivating and as illustrative as it would be in the beginning. Prologues are easier for newbie authors, while in most courses, they're primarily interested in teaching skills and developing raw talent, so they have them try (and often fail) a variety of techniques, understanding they'll never publish the work.

Slutsinger

@Crumbly Writer

Well, I'm not looking for a challenge, just trying to figure out if the story would be more compelling told first-person from the one who went through the experience or third-person limited from someone watching her heal. I suspect I'll have to tryy a couple of chapters and see how it goes. And there will be significant flashbacks that are first-person and either direct or dialogue depending on whether the overall story is first or third limited. (The narrator will be hearing the dialogue if it is dialogue)
So, in this case the difference between first and third is mostly in framing of transitions around the flashbacks.

For a challenge, I think I'm going to try my hand at a head-hopping story:-)
I read the article and understand why it's hard and rarely what you want, but it seems like a fun challenge for a short story.

Switch Blayde

@Slutsinger

more compelling told first-person from the one who went through the experience or third-person limited from someone watching her heal.


In 3rd-limited, the POV character is still going through the experience. And close-3rd even more so. The story is told through the eyes of the POV character. It is their experience, their thoughts, their feelings.

The main difference between 1st-person and 3rd-limited is the character's voice and the closeness of the reader to them.

Slutsinger

@Switch Blayde

I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. If I choose 3rd limited, the POV character will be different than first. Do I gain more by having a character who is not broken watch the healing process, or do I gain more by closeness to the experience? Only I as the author have any chance of knowing especially because I'm massively over] simplifying.
With respect, as a reader, I'd disagree with the claim that first person is inherently (or probably even generally) closer to the reader than third limited. I think there are aspects of the character that are closer with first, but I think it's a lot more complicated. My evidence for this is watching how I reacted to POV transitions in series where one work was first-person and another work was third-limited. (or multiple third-limited). I think the I think the Mercedes Thompson series is a good one to look at for this, although there are certainly enough examples on SOL.

Slutsinger

@Slutsinger

I'm sorry, I wasn't clear. If I choose 3rd limited, the POV character will be different than first. Do I gain more by having a character who is not broken watch the healing process, or do I gain more by closeness to the experience?

Well, that's what I was thinking. But you're right, I could also chang ePOV without changing the POV character. If I do that, the narrator will be one of the characters in the story, which I guess makes it technically first person, just with very little first-person pronouns, because the narrator is focusing on someone else rather than on their own actions. So, thanks for giving me something to consider!

Ernest Bywater

@Slutsinger

just trying to figure out if the story would be more compelling told first-person from the one who went through the experience or third-person limited from someone watching her heal.


In general, first person is a more in your face up close and personal way of presenting the story, especially for an action story, than any other format. It allows the reader to more closely link with the character. However, it does have it's drawbacks in regards to what and when things become known, since they have to be revealed to the character first. Another drawback is the need to head hop to cover something outside of the main character's immediate position. I've written stories like that, as I mentioned before, Rough Diamond is one such story with a couple of switches in heads, but all in the first person.

Now, I tend to write in the third person with a focus on the main character, but allowing for a wider view of events, and it's easier to cover matters away from the main character.

Talking with someone about the differences the other day I said first person is like giving the view of a baseball game from the perspective of the pitcher. He's involved in all the action, but often has to turn around to watch the actions of the other players, as well as be involved in many plays himself. He doesn't always get to see every action because some are over before he can turn around.

While third person is like sitting in the stands to watch the game. You can focus on the pitcher and what he's doing, but you also have the option of widening your view to watch the actions of the other players as well. He adjust your focus as you feel the need for each play of the game. You can even switch to watching the short stop or right fielder for a while, if you want.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Ernest Bywater

Or the pretty girl near you.

Switch Blayde

@Slutsinger

If I choose 3rd limited, the POV character will be different than first.


Why? Because it's not the character healing?

If the POV character is not the person healing, it can be done in either 1st or 3rd-limited. "My name is Ishmael." He's the POV character, but not the main character. And that's in 1st-person.

If the POV character is the one healing, that can be written in either 1st or 3rd-limited. As I said before, they're pretty much the same except for the pronouns (and the narrative voice).

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

"My name is Ishmael."


If you are thinking of the opening of Moby Dick, the line is "Call me Ishmael."

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

In 3rd-limited, the POV character is still going through the experience. And close-3rd even more so. The story is told through the eyes of the POV character. It is their experience, their thoughts, their feelings.

The main difference between 1st-person and 3rd-limited is the character's voice and the closeness of the reader to them.

1st is the character telling their own story, 3rd omni is someone else telling their story, 3rd limited is someone else telling their story, but that person only knows what the main character experiences, sees or is told (it's 'limited' to the main character). Head-hopping is, obviously, when you jump from one 3rd person limited character to another, or jump directly into the internal dialogues of other characters.

The main limitation to head-hopping is keeping it under control. Newbies think they can reveal anything about anyone, experience authors will generally limit it to only a couple characters, so the reader doesn't get lost and end up not caring about anyone.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

If you are thinking of the opening of Moby Dick, the line is "Call me Ishmael."

"Call me Ismael, or call me Joseph, just don't call me late for grub!"

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

just don't call me late for grub!"


I want to be called on time for meals, but I'll let you have all the grubs served up, especially the Witchetty Grubs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witchetty_grub

Crumbly Writer

The other problem with 3rd person head-hopping, is avoiding repeating the same information over, told from a different perspective. You see this all the time on SOL, and it annoys more than it informs. If you switch from one person to another, then move the story forward, don't back up and go over the same ground again and again. No one cares how someone else feels about the information. If you really need to capture someone else's feelings, then reveal them in a discussion over the topic. When readers read the exact same information, wrapped up in different paper, they'll start skipping over large chunks of the story, and then blame you, the author, for writing a story they can't follow. It's generally a losing proposition, and not nearly as clever as most authors think it'll be. :(

Replies:   Slutsinger
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

If you are thinking of the opening of Moby Dick, the line is "Call me Ishmael."


The point was it's first-person and the POV character is not the main character.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

Another significant point, the idea that 1st person is essential for readers to relate to the character goes in and out of fashion, not just over time, but with specific groups (publishers, reviewers, literary critics and readers), thus what's considered 'necessary' at one point, will be largely unpublishable at another point, all do to shifting attitudes about it. The same holds for 3rd, but generally, 3rd seems to be more consistently accepted over time.

Sorry, that wasn't directed at Switch, I simply hit the wrong key when I submitted it. :(

Slutsinger

@Crumbly Writer

The other problem with 3rd person head-hopping, is avoiding repeating the same information over, told from a different perspective. You see this all the time on SOL, and it annoys more

I agree that it probably annoys more readers than it helps. But speaking as a reader, sometimes, when it works for you it's really powerful. I think this was ASSTR not SOL, but I'm thinking of my reactions to some scenes in The Witch Chronicles by Jrd. I agree the writing was clunky, and it's kind of shocking that I put up with it as a reader, but I did, and I found the slight differences in the retelling really interesting.
As an author, I think it all depends on who you're writing for. If you are writing for the largest number of readers, then yeah, that's probably something to avoid.
If you're writing a special story for some small number of readers who are willing to stick with it, then perhaps retelling from multiple points of view is the right answer.
Clearly there are other options to consider, and you may be able to get both the view from several different points and something that flows well.
I'm jumping in here because I think one of the powerful qualities of SOL and ASSTR is that you can write stories that are not focused on the largest number of readers. You can write things you'd never publish. And sometimes that's because you don't yet know how to write the version that does all the things you want and reaches the larger number of readers. But sometimes it's because the story you tell is something that not a lot of people want to read. I'd ask us all to remember that strength of our community.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Sterling

I feel like I've got this one pretty much covered myself. For a story that's short, I can use first person, or 3rd person limited, whichever I want. But for a longer story, 3rd person limited is better. More than once I've started a story in 1st person, then realized I wanted to add a complication and write a chapter with someone else's perspective, and then it's back to rewriting the beginning in third person. So mostly I just do 3rd person limited.

I use a lot of dialog, for instance my most recent one:

http://storiesonline.net/s/14547/afterlife-when-your-descendants-have-sex

(I think it's pretty good if you like a wry sense of humor).

There one thing I worry about is that you can write quite a bit of dialog before you have to reveal which 3rd person's POV you're taking. For instance, in the first chapter you can find a section by searching on "Adam, that's great!" But it's 15 lines down in that section before I really reveal that it's Molly's POV. I don't think it's a problem because just about everything in that chapter (among the dead, anyway) is from Molly's POV. When jumping around in editing a story, I occasionally find myself wondering whose POV it is -- but I hope the reader who is reading linearly won't have the problem.

Switch Blayde

@Sterling

before you have to reveal which 3rd person's POV you're taking.


I always thought it was good to identify the POV character for the scene as soon as possible.

Crumbly Writer

@Slutsinger

I agree that it probably annoys more readers than it helps. But speaking as a reader, sometimes, when it works for you it's really powerful. I think this was ASSTR not SOL, but I'm thinking of my reactions to some scenes in The Witch Chronicles by Jrd. I agree the writing was clunky, and it's kind of shocking that I put up with it as a reader, but I did, and I found the slight differences in the retelling really interesting.

Generally, if you want that kind of thing to work, it's best NOT to repeat the same details, but to relate how the events affected the people involved. Often that involves having the individual people relate the information over time, rather than reliving the events again and again.

The general idea, is to keep moving the story forward, not backsliding, trying to get a single chapter right, time after time.

But, if you find that a convincing approach, my hat's off to you. They certainly got it to work with a variety of movies, most notably "Groundhog Day" (which again, got around it by highlighting what was different each day, rather than focusing on what the exactly the same).

Crumbly Writer

@Sterling

I feel like I've got this one pretty much covered myself. For a story that's short, I can use first person, or 3rd person limited, whichever I want. But for a longer story, 3rd person limited is better. More than once I've started a story in 1st person, then realized I wanted to add a complication and write a chapter with someone else's perspective, and then it's back to rewriting the beginning in third person. So mostly I just do 3rd person limited.

I'm not sure you're clear on the difference between 3rd and 3rd limited. In 3rd limited, the story is told entirely from the perspective of a single character, but is told by a 3rd person (that's how the 3rd person story is limited). In 3rd, you can switch from one character to another, all told by someone from a distance, who can relate any number of details about what's occurring. However, you shouldn't switch perspectives in a 3rd person limited story.

Another typical trip point is exactly the one you're promoting. Many stories confuse readers by NOT identifying who they're talking about right away. If readers assume one character is speaking, but then find out later it was someone else, they're often lost as they try to recollect the entire scene from the new perspective.

Instead, it's generally wise to declare who's perspective the segment is being told from immediately, either with a banner (ex: "*** Steve: Friday Afternoon ***" or by starting the section dealing with the perspective character). Forcing the reader, while an interesting experiment, is asking for trouble because you'll lose a LOT of readers!

Reader confusion is a problem in ANY story, no matter how it's told. If you're confused editing it, I can guarantee you'll have dozens of people confused who don't already know the story.

Perv Otaku

Do whatever works, as long as it isn't confusing.

In my "Interview with the Tentacle Demon" story, it seems to be mostly 3rd person limited, but only because the majority of the story follows the primary protagonist around. The perspective switches a couple of times to a tertiary character, and there's a two chapter long flashback sequence narrated in first person by the two characters that were there.

Prologues can be messy, but I've got a short one that I'm using across the board for a shared-universe anthology series. The first story in the series spends a lot of time explaining the concept, the prologue lays it out quickly so that theoretically the stories can be read in any order. It's a paragraph long, that's probably about as long as you would want for a "you need to understand this before you can start reading" dump. Anything longer and it probably should be worked in among the story proper.

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