Monday, 30 November 2009

First and Third

I’ve just finished reading ‘When the Wind Blows’ by James Patterson. A good read, pacy and interesting. But I’m not planning to post a review of it here. I want to talk about something else.

Some time ago, over on Litopia, someone posted a piece of work that had two POV characters, both written in the first person. Now several people pointed out that this didn’t really work, so the author asked whether it would be reasonable to write one POV character in the first person and one in the third person.

The overwhelming response was No.

But this is exactly what Patterson has done, both here and in his Maximum Ride books that my daughter has been devouring. And you know what – it works.

But how has he managed it? Why has he pulled it off? Well, obviously with a great deal of skill. But it’s worth noting that the main story is told through the 1st person POV character and the 3rd person perspectives are all secondary characters, and the periods we spend in their heads are much shorter. Maybe this is the key.

I wonder what everyone else thinks?


  1. This does indeed work, Kate. I've read some cracking books where the writer mixes tenses. It's not easy, but when it works it really does pay off.
    John Connolly uses this a lot - particularly his Charlie Parker series - where the main focus is on first person from Charlie, and then he cuts away, as you say, just for short sections to third person pov from others - usually the bad guys - and then it's back to Charlie. It works with ease.

    I think the reaction against such moves is caused by a) the general negative feeling towards such a style, because we're told not to do it and therefore it must be 'bad'; and (I'll be shot down in flames for this...), b) an inability (or unwillingness) of some (many?) readers to adapt to two different povs in the same piece.

    I can't see what the problem is myself...

  2. I agree too. Readers are getting more and more sophisticated and used to the chopping cuts of modern cinema/tv drama. Tense and POV changes are great for cranking up tension. But you're right, it calls for skill!

  3. Very interesting question. My novel is written with a recurring first person present tense POV character and several third person past POVs, so if this is a problem I guess I'm in trouble!

    That said, writers like Iain Banks do it all the time (he had a recurring second person present tense POV in "Complicity") so at least if it is a sin it's being committed well by celebrated authors.


Please share you thoughts, I'd love to hear from you....