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Do you have advice for changing perspective? For example, switching
from writing exclusively in third person and switching to first person?
Or do you have a reason for staying with the perspective you do?
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Keeping perspective in a work is important, and sometimes hard work. Early on in my career, an agent wanted me to go through my first book to make sure that I kept my focus within the perspective of one character. She didn’t like the idea of me writing in third person at all. Clearly, that was not the agent for me. However, this criticism did teach me something necessary to even third person: head hopping isn’t a good thing.
Head hopping is when you jump around each character to get their ideas on the scene. For instance, if you’re writing a scene between two people, you tell everything going on in their heads, and sometimes within the same paragraph. Publishers hate this! Readers find it confusing. If you’re not writing first person, or second person either (the one where someone is telling you the story secondhand, you’re not fully in the heads of anyone. Showing, not telling, is going to keep you from what many agents and publishers call a rookie mistake.
Writers are going to do what they’re going to do, though–especially in the independent market. That said, if you want to avoid this because you want your work to be on par with the big leaguers, then listen up. What can stop you from head hopping? Show don’t tell. But, what does that even mean? Instead of saying, Ryan was angry, you’d write, Ryan glowered his eyes shining with an ugly light. His fists balled and his face reddened. Yeah, it does take longer to say. That said, you’ve stayed in one head: the narrator’s head. Whether or not they are omniscient will show in the details they share throughout the work.
Don’t worry if you head-hop in an early draft. Remember, you’re just trying to get your ideas out on paper. Go back and work it out later. You’ve got this!
Not every chapter or paragraph features a main character, so how do handle this clear change in perspective. Remember what I said up there? Stay in the narrator’s head. You’re showing the action happening. It doesn’t matter if your main protagonist is there or not. Just make sure that what you’re about to show is important to the story. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time. Go ahead and write this side-quest, you can always edit it out later and put important elements along the road elsewhere.
An omniscient narrator will be able share those side-quests that are important to the story, because they’re omniscient. If they’re limited, then they won’t know that those actions took place. So third person omniscient is able to take that camera to other scenes and other characters to show important to the plot items that first and second or limited narrators cannot.
Most of the books that I have loved growing up are third person and I favor this form of story telling. Don’t forget, you can show everything and give away the mystery, or you can hold it back and be willfully limited where it is needed. This can add suspense. Showing a rounded character witnessing another exiting a building in a notable way is one way to do this. They don’t know why this is important right now, but the narrator knows it matters for later.
Holding back information is a great way to build tension and suspense if you’re into that. Thus, being omniscient doesn’t have to be a tell-all narrator. Good story tellers know what to say and what to hold close to their chest. They know when the time is right to release a little information, like a trail of breadcrumbs leading the reader along the path.
All of this, don’t forget, comes in honing one’s craft, but also in drafting. Once you’ve crammed it all down in draft one, you can go back and start moving pieces around a bit. Maybe that incident you have happen in chapter one is better in three, or unpacking some stuff from that is great for chapter ten. Instead of hopping momentarily into the head of a side-character, another more rounded character comes along to see the thing happen. What if they don’t tell your protagonist right away about it? Maybe this information comes out later because it didn’t seem to matter much before?
Regardless, just get that draft written down. Come back later and worry about getting it all back into the same perspective. Trust the process and don’t rush. There’s no date stamp on finishing. Keep in mind that rushing a work can lead to a lot of mistakes that make you look an amateur. Whether you’re independent or not, that matters. You want your readers to like the work and come back for more, right?
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Stevie Turner says
I was once told by an agent that writing in the third person is preferred. However, nowadays I prefer first person.
Captain Maiel says
I can’t imagine they’d be right! there’s a big push to favor first.
P.J. MacLayne says
Leaving breadcrumbs is the way to go. I once had a critique that said the reader was disappointed that they didn’t know who by villain was before the end of the first chapter. So much for breadcrumbs!
Richard Dee says
I do worry that the reader will get confused in some of my more complex stories, hence my use of chapter subtitles to indicate whose head we’re in, or which location/time. Unused side quests can also make great spin-off stories in their own right.
Samantha J Bryant says
It’s good advice not to get too hung up on these kinds of details too early in the process. That’s for revision and editing! @samanthabwriter from
Stevie Turner says
Yes, the best way is not to release too much information all at once, not to head-hop, and as you say, not to rush the story. We learn as we go along.
I wonder if there a mystery book told in the 3rd person omniscient.
I mainly write in 1st person because it seem natural for the story to be told through that perspective. Currently I am writing a story in the 3rd person to sharped my skills at writing in different perspectives.