In a novel I've been writing, I begin by introducing a character and describing her history and personality from a third-person perspective.

Now, I want to start talking about a different character, who is in a different, but related circumstance, later in time. I plan to have their stories come together later in the novel. However, I want the reader to relate more to this character, and I want to have him give long, thoughtful, musings on his experience, to which I think a first-person perspective would be much better suited.

Is this a wise decision, what alternative options do I have? How would you recommend I best switch perspectives without confusing the reader? I also want to make it clear that I am changing perspectives and the new character was not narrating before, and is not familiar with the events of the previous part of the story.

It might also be helpful if you could point me in the direction of other novels where this sort of thing has worked before.

  • You could look at House of Sand and Fog, where the writer switches between two characters, each in first person. The reader decides (easily) that the narrative just switched. However, if your he pattern is very irregular -- twice on page 3 then once on page 30, the reader would need good clues as to what just happened.
    – Yosef Baskin
    May 28, 2017 at 17:04
  • It's a trend in recent novels to simply write the character's name on a chapter or section that contains that character's perspective. Example: Gone Girl. Before that there's The Time Traveler's Wife. To me it's already a hackneyed presentation. May 28, 2017 at 17:19
  • Seems fine. Ultimately as a writer, it's your decision and could give the novel depth and could be beneficial, depending on your execution. As long as it's clear it's a different time and place, for example a new chapter.
    – marcellothearcane
    May 28, 2017 at 17:43
  • Welcome to Writers SE, Mark. Take a look around, because the question you are asking is rather similar to a few which popped up here recently, and not that recently. Just do a search on "POV" :-)
    – Lew
    May 31, 2017 at 16:22

5 Answers 5


Perhaps the most famous example of switching from an involved to external narrator is Dickens Bleak House. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy is a more recent (and shorter) example. It is worth noting that in both these cases, there is far more than a change of narrator going on. The whole tone and mood and attitude shifts as well.

The effect, in both cases, is quite startling. It is not a small change, but a big one, one that forces you to sit up and take notice. I can't prove it, but I think this may be an essential part of making it work. I suspect this is a go big or go home kind of thing.

I think it is mistaken to think that reader's identification with the character is increased by the use of an involved narrator (I regard "first person" as a misnomer because most of what they write will actually be in the third person). As human beings, we relate to the people we meet, observing them from the outside, not the inside. Writing from within one person's head had an intensely introspective quality, but introspection is not particularly revealing of character. By their fruits ye shall know them. We get to understand people by their actions. And beware long thoughtful musings. It is the easiest thing to be self indulgent about, and the hardest thing to make interesting to others.

Plenty of people identify with Harry Potter, and those books are all written with an external narrator.

In short, the desire to have the reader identify with the character may be neither a necessary nor a sufficient reason for switching to an involved narrator in the middle of a book.


The only real issue with using 1st-p is that the narrator (assuming the MC/protag is also the VC) can't know what they don't experience, or so we are told. So they can't narrate scenes they were not present for, unless that is used as a frame story. IOW, a character can relate a story to them, which they repeat to us, either in dialog or narration.

But you can't get away with that very often. It also can get tiring to be in the same person's head. Still, I prefer 1st-p.

Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King is presented in 'parts', or sequences of chapters. Part one is in 1st-person POV from the heroine. Part two is in 3rd-p limited, from her husband. But it works very well, and is not confusing, and it makes sense (a very good story).

What appears to be a problem only for those who listen too hard to short-sighted not-that-intelligent Creative Writing teachers, or to Prof. Google, who actually knows very little, is when you write in 1st-p and then write a scene the MC was not present for. Logistically, that is impossible, but dammit, it still works, and readers are not confused or dismayed by it. It's invisible to both the author and the reader.

It does not make literal sense, but it makes literary sense, and it is not nearly the problem people who critique authors for sport make it out to be. When a 1st-p narrator talks about events that happen to other people, they use 3rd-p pronouns. If they are in the scene (which they typically are) they use 1st-p pronouns regarding themselves. But if they are not in the scene, then there are just 3rd-p pronouns, so it sounds exactly like 3rd-p, even if narrated in 1st-p.

In reality, people can't tell us things they either were not present for or that were not told to them first. But in the fictive dream, logistically impossible as it would seem, it still works, and readers will not have a problem with it.

And who are we writing for? Not critiquers hungry to wordsmith and nitpick every single thing that doesn't match what they consider reality. No, we write for readers, who couldn't care less whether that makes logistical sense or not. They suspend disbelief.

So one can indeed change POV. To make it most easy to comprehend, try to do it at a section or chapter break, or if needed, maybe at a scene break. Certainly don't do it inside a paragraph or a sentence. Head-hopping is confusing to the reader.

So this can happen two ways: the 'accepted' way is to have a different character narrate, for instance, a different chapter, or have the story slip from 1st to 3rd or 3rd to 1st.

The other way is to stay in 1st with the same narrator and just allow them to narrate a scene they were not present for. It still works, even though logistically impossible in real life. It's called 'fiction' for a reason, which is that it is not real, so it does not have to adhere to all of the laws of time and space. It's invisible to readers, and it works.


Since English is not my first language, and I learnt all this terminology with completely different names, bear with me as I go over the terms.

So you have started writing using the third person. Did you use Omniscient or Limited?

(omniscient narrator; written in 3rd person; narrator knows everything that's going on; does not usually help the reader feel intimate with the characters)

Claire woke up early and went out for a run before heading to her sister's, to babysit her little niece, not realising she had forgotten her phone at home. While she was out Jack phoned her and left an urgent message.

(Limited narrator; written in 3rd person; narrator usually shows only what one character knows, though this rule can be broken ocasionally; usually helps the reader feel intimate with the characters)

Claire opened the door with a big smile. She loved babysitting her little niece. As she dropped her handbag, something caught her attention. Was that... ? Yes, it was her phone. Drats! She hadn't even noticed she didn't have it with her. She picked it up hoping nobody from work had called. Her boss was constantly going on about how important it was that she was always available.

And now you want to pick up the first-person.

(the character is the narrator; written in 1st person; the narrator can know more than the character only if the narrator is talking about past events while having the knowledge of what has happened; great for the reader to get intimate with the character, but can get claustrophobic)

I hit the snooze button the moment the alarm went off. For some reason, though, the alarm didn't stop. It dawned on me I was patting the nightstand and that the phone wasn't where it should. Sleep suddenly gone, I switched on the light. Where on earth had that phone gone to?

I think swapping between third and first person is jarring and should be done only by skillful writers. My advice is to go with 3rd person limited. You can do it really limited, if need be, so much so that the narrator can sound like it lives within the character's consciousness.

If you want to go with long, thoughtful musings, the first-person approach can become a bit claustrophobic so balancing those musings with the third person might help the narration flow easier.

In the end, though, it's your choice. Just weigh pros and cons of your possibilities, try them out on a chapter and decide which one creates the best effect.


Be consistent.

It can be a narrative technique where the main character is first person and the others are third person.

This is useful for if you want to hide things from the reader. The main character will have their flawed perception, and the third person view can be used to explain how characters in the other parts of the story are progressing. It can also be used to build up comedic/dramatic tension in the audience, at how the characters misunderstand the situation.

It's also useful for epic stories where the reader gets tired of the main character, or set the scene for a defining moment for a side character.


This is such a good question. From a reader perspective, I would prefer reading from two POVs. For instance, let's say I'm reading a romance, I'd like to read from the female, then male, then female. This allows me to understand the characters more, and I tend to bond with them better. However, I'm also a writer, and I have just noticed the inconsistency pattern in my writing. I get that sometimes we switch POV to get the best effect but switching up too much can be confusing to reader. So my best advice for you, and myself is to develop a plan, or pattern for your book, or novella to follow. That'd be so much easier.

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