Mixing first and third person examples

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Wed Oct 18, 2017 6:54 pm Post


I've written a first draft in, roughly, 3rd-omniscient. The story changed a lot during the writing from where I expected it to go and now that I'm revising I'm considering options.

I quite like the idea of opening in first or third-limited, but I know that voice won't work as the story and the landscape unfolds. So, I've been considering mixing first and third (maybe limited, maybe not). I understand care needs to be taken, etc. I know examples of this exist, I'm just not aware of what they are (excluding experimental works, including Ulysses). I wondered whether anyone could recommend examples.

I should perhaps add that the first person parts would be characters and not a narrator.

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Wed Oct 18, 2017 7:30 pm Post

Faulkner does it, in The Sound and the Fury, although I wouldn't say that's his most readable work.

It's not unusual in the mystery/thriller genre. The "I" voice might be the protagonist-detective, with third-limited used to peek in on participants in a conspiracy, for example.

Multiple-third viewpoints are pretty much a necessity in, say, big fantasy novels with multiple settings and multiple main characters. You certainly *could* use the first-person for one of those viewpoints if there's a story-appropriate reason to do so.

Multiple-first is really hard, because you have to make each voice very distinct to avoid confusing the reader. It might work in the same circumstances as multiple-third -- big separation in time and/or space -- but I have a hard time thinking of a story-appropriate reason to do it.

Edit: Actually yes, I can think of one. The "Rashomon" approach, where the same story is told by multiple witnesses, is a good use of the multiple-first viewpoint.

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Thu Oct 19, 2017 1:38 am Post

Kevin Hearne uses multiple first-person narrators/POV to good effect in the Iron Druid Chronicles, as the story moves along through the series of novels and various characters become more important.

Mixing 1st and 3rd is pretty common in some subsets of urban fantasy. Sometimes they do it the way you mention, but every now and then you'll see the "other" POV be 1st person while the main story is told in some form of 3rd. The trick there is usually figuring out which character it is in the main story whose 1st-person POV we're seeing from time to time...it's an effective way to give us clues that someone is not who they seem to be.
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