Differing perspectives, part four, Hybrid narratives

Part four of a series on differing forms of narratives in stories.

After I finished writing my last post on differing perspectives, I realized that I had one more post on this topic than I had expected. I had forgotten completely about what I term ‘Hybrid narratives’. Hybrid narratives, or perhaps I should I say stories, are where an author mixes both first person and third person narrative styles in a single book.

This is accomplished in several ways:

  1. A forward in first or third person followed by the rest of the book in the other style (forward in first rest in third or vice versa.)
  2. Alternating chapters narrative style (e.g. Chapter 1 in third, chapter 2 in first).
  3. Giving every chapter or every x numbers of chapters a single page forward written in first person. Normally this takes the form of a page from a diary of the main character.
  4. If a book is divided into parts, each part could have a forward of its own written in either style (followed of course by the other style).

While this isn’t as common as either just First or Third person stories, I’ve seen it done many times. It seems to be a bit newer of an idea, but if done well it can work well.

This kind of hybrid narrative structure has several pros and few cons:

Pros:

  1. Utilizes both first and third person narratives.
  2. Allows for easy changing from person to person in first person narrative
  3. Allows a reader to see deeper into the character, while still allowing for the view-point to change to something happening a thousand miles away.
  4. It can be used to lead into a flashback.

I can’t think of any obvious cons, save for the fact that some readers might have a bit of a problem with the narrative style switching back and forth over the course of a book.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series about differing narratives, I know I enjoyed writing it. Please feel free to leave any comments below.

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Differing perspectives, part 3: Third person

This is the third part of my series on differing perspectives. In part two I explored first person narrative. Today I’ll be focusing on third person narrative.

Third person narrative is the normal view point, or perspective, that most people are most familiar with as most novels and stories are written in.  It uses a nonexistent person that is omnipotent in its sight, but is not able to be seen or alter anything in the world it sees.

While that might not be the best description of third person narrative, it’s the closest that I can come up with that is simple enough to explain.

What can be said about something everyone is familiar with? I’m not sure, but I’ll try my best.

Continuing with my examples from last time, if you’ll recall I highlighted ‘Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc’, now I’d like to bring to the front another of Mark Twain’s other works that was written in third person.

‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer’ is an example that most people are familiar with. In it Mark Twain used third person in a more limited way, mostly concentrating on the main characters and ignoring what was going on in the rest of the town. In most modern third person writing it would be vastly different. In ‘Tom Sawyer’ for example, in it Tom sneaks back into town, that is the only way he finds out about the funeral being held for the boys, that allowed them to walk in on their own funeral. That would have still been possible if the story was being told in first person by Huck Finn about what he experienced, but it wouldn’t have had the humorous chapter about Tom’s escapade.

While it would seem that Third person books would all be written in a similar pattern, there are actually nearly as many different ways to write one as there are books written that way, a few examples:

  1.  Even in third person stories, the main character can be followed exclusively, this is somewhat rare but still quite possible.
  2. Every chapter can focus on a different character, I’ve seen this done quite often.
  3. Descriptions can take presidence over action and even characters.

Now for a list of the pros and cons of third person narrative:

Pros:

  1. The story can jump between characters, places and even times.
  2. Third person narratives can have more descriptions in them as they are not bound by what one person might take note of.
  3. Flashbacks can be accomplished quite easily without  the narrative explaining why they are happening before hand (e.g. dreams, a knock on the head explained afterwards, etc.)
  4. Dreams are handled much easier and clearly as the narrator doesn’t have to say that they had a dream that such and such happened.

Cons:

  1. You mostly see the overview of things instead of a certain character’s point of view (there are a few exceptions to this, however they are rarely handled well).
  2. Main characters can remain more undefined as you never know quite what they really view as important enough to remember through out the book (this might be a good thing however, depending on what kind of story it is).
  3. The passing of time isn’t as clear cut as in most first person stories, unless it is defined as ‘one week later’ or something similar.

I know that I’ve glossed over a few things here, perhaps I’ve overstated a few things as well, but I feel that these are all valid points.

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you thought of this post.

Note: I enjoy books written in third person just as much as those written in first person, I hope that nothing in the post suggests otherwise.

Differing perspectives, part two: First person

The second part of my series on differing perspectives in stories, focusing on first person narrative.

I gave a quick example on First person narratives in the first part of my series. In this second part I’ll be going more into detail about first person narratives, I’ll cite a few example and give my take on it.

First off, first person narratives are nothing new, they’ve been in use for a long time, while I’m not quite as well read of the classics as I should be, even Mark Twain wrote in first person on occasion.
While Mark Twain wrote about his travels in first person, describing what he saw and giving his take on it, he also wrote ‘Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc’ in first person, telling the now familiar story of her through the fictional eyes of a friend who followed her into battle. It is one of the best examples of first person narrative that I’ve ever read and I heartily recommend it to everyone who wants to read a well written story in first person.

Another well written novel in first person is ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins. In this book Wilkie Collins managed to go a step farther with a first person narrative, while not changing style, he allowed other voices to take over the narrative in certain chapters, allowing the reader to hear the statements of the witnesses and suspects in the case.

The Woman in White is another book that I’d recommend to those interested in reading a story in first person as it’s one of the best examples that I’ve read.

While other authors have tried to copy Wilkie Collins’ style of first person narrative, I’ve found few that have come close. I did recently read one that seemed as if it used the same style, the characters related their part of the story nicely, but in the end nearly all of them were killed off, as it was written in a way that it seemed like a flash back, reading the death in first person was jarring to say the least.

 

Now for the pros and cons of first person narratives:

Pros:

  1. As it focuses on one point of view, the reader can get a better feel about the narrating character.
  2. It tells the story as seen by the character (or characters depending on style), which can reveal details that the character(s) feel are important.
  3. First person narratives can develop a better understanding of the narrator, how he thinks and feels.
  4. It can allow for certain facts to be concealed as the narrating character doesn’t know about those details until later on in a story.

 

Cons:

  1. It offers a lot more challenges to a writer as the world is revealed through only a single character in most cases (if using the Wilkie Collins’ method this problem is slightly reduced as there are multiple views points).
  2. You are stuck with the narrating character (or characters) even if something important is happening a thousand miles away.
  3. You don’t get quite as good of a feel for other characters is the story.
  4. Certain facts are hidden from the reader and it might seem as if the author changed something major at the end when something is revealed.

 

All of the above challenges can be avoided by good writer of course, say by hinting about certain facts before they are revealed.

I hope that you’ve found this article interesting and informative, next week I’m tackling third person perspectives.

Differing perspectives, part one

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about books, so I thought I’d take a stab at comparing narrative perspectives.

Because I expect this to be a large undertaking I am going to break it down into different parts. Right now I’m planning on having this opening part as well as future parts dedicated to first person and third person perspectives. If I feel that it’s warranted, I may add a few additional parts.  Right now I’m  thinking that I’ll be posting one part per week.

First off,  I thought I’d outline the basics of narrative perspectives. Obviously I’m talking about the perspective that a book or story is written in, another way to say it would be whose  eyes the story is unfolding in front of. Almost everyone probably understands this already, but I just want to clarify in case anyone doesn’t understand the meanings of First person and Third person.

First person normally takes the form of relating a story, such as how you’d tell your neighbor what you saw in Paris, e.g.: “We climbed the Eiffel tower, the view was breath-taking from the top!” Or how you stopped a hoard of vikings from over running London: “I stood on London bridge with nothing but a sword and drove back a thousand berserk vikings, after a few hours they fled in terror at my prowess in battle.”

Third person is told more like a person is watching the events unfold without being affecting by them, e.g.: “Arnold watched as his car was towed from in front of the drugstore, it was the fourth time that week that it had happened.” or “June cracked an egg and briskly whipped it as she scanned the recipe for the next step, all while wondering why she was baking a cake when the world-famous scientist Alfred Von Finkstine was being held captive in her basement.  June feared it would be the last time the CIA asked her to protect a scientist holding a vital secret that could bring about the demise of civilization if she didn’t manage to pull a rabbit out of her hat.”

 

I hope this post whets your appetite for the next parts.

Please leave any comments, I want to make this series of posts as informative as possible and all feedback will be taken into consideration before the next post