Not Head-Hopping   6 comments

Do you have advice for changing perspective? For example, switching from writing exclusivly 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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Third Person

For a long time, I wrote exclusively in the third-person viewpoint. I just could never get comfortable with the first-person view. It’s why Daermad Cycle and Transformation Project series are written in third-person viewpoint. I do switch character viewpoints, but I originally felt weird trying to write character thoughts rather than actions. I think this was a holdover from my reporter’s training, although I also wrote fiction when I was a reporter, so maybe it’s just how my brain works.

Or used to work.

Advantages of Third Person

There’s something to be said for being an omniscient narrator. You can feed information to the reader about every character and situation, even when the individual characters are unaware of the greater circumstances. You can even provide information that none of the characters knows. Many writers who write in first-person concentrate solely on one character, so there is a lot they don’t know unless they’re present for every pivotal scene, which I find unrealistic and awkward, not to mention you can’t know another character’s thoughts or motivations. The main characters is left with no way of gaining access to other characters’ states of mind.

I like to have more than one viewpoint character and for many years, the “experts” said if you were going to write in first-person, you had to concentrate on one character or you’d confuse the reader. I think novel writers have evolved beyond that sort of rote rule and readers have embraced that.

First Person

Although I struggle through some first-person perspective work in creative writing courses, I didn’t really embrace the POV until I was writing a short story for a libertarian anthology and found I really needed to cut several thousand words to meet the submission guidelines. Because it was a short story, I only had one viewpoint character. It was an alternative history and in third person, it had a lot of explanatory narratives. When I cut the explanatory narrative, the story felt incomplete. So I experimented and wrote the first scene in first-person. Written from Lai’s perspective, I could avoid explaining some things and just express his feelings about them. And those thousands of extraneous words just disappeared. The resultant short story became one of the anchors of Echoes of Liberty, an anthology by Agorist Writers Workshop.

You know how sometimes you try something for a particular reason and you like it so much, you want to expand it to all of your writing?

I had a problematic work-in-progress that would become the What If Wasn’t series. I didn’t like it in third-person. There was too much explaining of feelings. It’s a young-adult novel and that just didn’t feel right. Peter should feel his emotions, not have a narrator explain them. Show, don’t tell, right? So I tried rewriting it in first-person. It still didn’t feel right and a beta reader said “You need the perspective of others in here.” Well, that was the whole point of writing it in third-person. Peter is part of a community of characters and his actions affect them all. But I really liked the first-person perspective, so I took another run at it.

The more I played with it, the more comfortable I became with writing multiple viewpoints in first-person, just sticking with one character in every chapter which I clearly label. I was basically doing what I had been doing in third-person but with much more intimacy. I have now written three of the novels in multiple-character first-person viewpoint and I like it. My beta readers like it. I’ve gotten messages from readers saying they like it. It makes a faster story that can express feelings and inner dialogue so much better than third-person can. Multiple-character first-person allows for richer character development without devolving into head-hopping. Humans are complex and fictional characters must be complex as well to be believable. A primary goal in fiction is to engage the reader — to make them feel like they could be there in the action. A great way to do that is to put them in the head of the viewpoint character.

I wish sometimes that I could go back and rewrite the other two series in multiple-character first-person, but that would be way too much work and might throw off already engaged readers. It is a jolt though, every time I go from first-person back to third-person. It’s an adjustment I have to deliberately make.

But, hey, I bill myself as a multi-genre writer, so why not also a multi-perspective writer? I wonder what my fellow blog-hoppers are thinking on this subject.

6 responses to “Not Head-Hopping

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  1. Personal Opinion only, I think feeding the readers with characters’ motivations puts the story in another form of third person, narration. I would rather read a story than have it read to me, if you get what I mean. In fact, I hardly ever give a $%#& what’s going on in a character’s head other than what can be derived from action and dialogue. The very first real editor I had went through and redlined every felt, thought etc. A good example of 1 vs 3 is character is locked in trunk of bad guys’ car. 1st is I did this or that or thought and waited, 3rd is (Name) searched for, did this or that, waited . Same thing, except in 3rd the reader can sit in on the bad guys in the front seat and the cops waiting down the road. Short version, none of are God in the real world and playing God with in head naration is a waste of time. Get out of the way and let the story unfold.


  2. When I start to get a story, I can immediately tell whether it’ll be a 1 or a 3. If I see it through my eyes, it’s a 1. If I’m an observer of events, then it’s a 3. I leave it at that and write down what I see.


    • That’s cool. I think that’s how I used to do it until I actually tried to write in 1st person and now I see it in 1st person most of the time. I don’t want to throw off readers who have been reading Transformation Project in 3rd person all this time. So, I haven’t. But I kind of want to.


  3. Neat! Sometimes finding the right perspective solves our literary problems! @samanthabwriter from
    Balancing Act

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Writing in first person with multiple narrators is becoming more popular. I haven’t tried it yet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Like you I only wrote in the third person, but once I changed to the first person to write the first part of ‘A House Without Windows’ I actually preferred it.

    Liked by 1 person

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