I’m trying to write my first novel and I have come across an issue which I feel like it could change the whole story/flow. Originally it wouldn’t have mattered if I wrote in the third person but I then came across other challenges and just decided to stick with first.

My question (sorry if it doesn’t make sense) is this:

I am writing my novel in the first person through the main character. I wanted to include another characters perspective who is the villan, like a small section of their evil plan. But I don’t know how I would write that if it is through my main character life. So basically it would mean switching from one scene in one chapter eg. School to a new scene in a different chapter eg. Cave

Also how would people understand if it’s the main characters story but somehow another person was able to write in it?

If anyone could help me out. It would be appreciated.

Many thanks,

Stephanie

There is no problem to include the evil villain perspective to your story but...

You have to make sure to the reader that the part he is reading is not about the main character. First peron writing is meant to only be written purely from his perspective. This so the reader can identify with the character and can understant the motivations of the character better.

If you want to add other perspectives to the story there is no problem switching first person mode into a third person mode. But make sure you clearly section of the part that is not about the main character. Let the reader know he is no longer inside the head of the main character. Start with a new chapter whenever you switch to another perspective and close the chapter when you leave that perspective again.

Example:

Meanwhile in some secret hide-out far far away, Evil Villain Guy was pacing up and down his room. etc etc

The example shows a start you can choose to make. It makes clear to the reader he is about to read something parallel to the perspective of the main character. It also identifies who this will be. From here you can start writing outside of the first person perspective of your main character.

However!

There are dangers when using these perspective changes. It breaks immersion for the reader. He can no longer solely identify with the main character anymore. It sets a precedent and the reader will now expect his immersion to break more often. Some people will like it. Some people will not.

So you can change perspective, but it requires some setup and brings risk.

I have personally never been "confused" by a shift in POV – have you? Despite the constant alerts that a new POV will befuddle readers, I'd challenge anyone with that advice to produce an example where they were actually confused.

The real issue is not that readers are too stupid (can they follow a plot or a character arc? Are you avoiding big words?), its that the writer has set up a rule of a limited perspective only to immediately break it. Readers will not be confused by a POV shift if they have ever watched television or a movie in their lives, since 1-perspective programs are extremely rare. More likely they will see it for what it is: the author has written a convoluted plot that needs explanation rather than allowing the protagonist (and readers) to figure it out through events in the novel.

Flipping POV to another character so you can put an eye-witness in the room is the worst reason to shift perspective. A better solution is to fix the plothole, or to work within the limits of first-person.

Jumping POV works when each POV character is part of an ensemble, and each has their own development arc, and a unique perspective on the situation so their commentary and ideas contribute meaningfully to the whole. Or, each POV personifies an idea or political faction that has been condensed into one character to give that perspective a voice. Is the villain "sort of right" and the hero "sort of wrong"? Do their emotional arcs mirror? Are they more alike than different? What are we learning through this particular POV that will surprise the reader and enrich the story? Maybe there are no heroes or villains, just a complicated situation that looks very different depending on which side you're on.

Like Chekov's gun, adding additional POVs is a promise to the reader that this perspective will be equally important, and will pay off as a well-developed character in its own right.

As always with these POV questions, please read some Jane Austen to see how a master jumps seamlessly from POV to POV – even minor and throw-away characters, often over 1 or 2 sentences without ever confusing the reader. Authors do not need to set off signal flairs to warn readers in advance that they have changed POV, they just need to understand their characters so each voice is clear.

  • Mmm, but Jane Austen writes in 3rd person. This question is specifically about 1st. – Galastel Oct 11 at 19:02
  • @Galastel, she writes in something called Indirect Free Speech where external character's inner monolog is heard by the reader. It is not 3rd-person in the way we think of 3rd-person. – wetcircuit Oct 11 at 20:29
  • Ah. Good point. – Galastel Oct 11 at 20:42

First person serves best to help the reader identify with the character, it minimises the distance between the audience and the protagonist. Is that the kind of connection you want between the reader and the antagonist as well? That's an option, so long as that's a conscious decision on your part.

Switching between several first-person POVs is done sometimes. For example, in her recent book Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik switches between several POVs (protagonists and supporting characters), all in first person. Another example is The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones.

The thing to watch out for when you do such a switch is that it needs to be immediately clear who the POV is at any given moment. This can be indicated by location, by other characters addressing the character by name, etc., but is best maintained by having each POV have a distinctly different inner voice. So, each character would talk differently, think differently, see things differently. Even with all those in place, the first few times Naomi Novik switched POV, I found it a bit jarring, it took me a little tome to readjust. In first person, we expect to follow one character throughout. (Diana Wynne Jones avoided this problem by clearly labelling the parts of the story that belong to one character or the other, alternating "Alice" parts and "Bob" parts. By the time "Alice" and "Bob" meet, and the parts get labelled "Alice and Bob", the reader is sufficiently familiar with both, and accustomed to having both POVs.)

If you don't want that closeness and understanding for the antagonist that a first-person account would create, you can move to third person, as @TotumusMaximus indicates. An advantage of this approach is that the reader doesn't see everything that's going on in the anatagonist's mind, there remains a sense of mystery, a sense of "unknown" about them.

Well written changes in perspective are fine. Yes, I've been confused by poorly written ones. All it takes is a very small orienting hint, but some writers leave it out. I can't remember the actual books but there have been times I've started a new section only to realize the person is different from before. Or, in a book that has many perspective changes, I have had trouble figuring out whose head we're in now. I'm not an inattentive reader; these are faults of the author.

For Stephanie, yes, you want to be super clear with the transition. If it's just one (or a small handful) of quick scene changes to the villain's perspective, you can do it in an insert. One of those pages that is set apart from the rest and has a different font, or background color, or a box around it. If that's too big and obvious, then at least give a sentence to explain the transition, like with Totumus's example.

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