Dueling Narrators: How Many Points of View Can One Story Handle?

A distracting new trend in urban fantasy – scattering first-person narration in between multiple third-person points of view.

points of view
(c) Jason Poland

While multiple close or omniscient third person perspectives are nothing new to fiction, something odd seems to be cropping up with frequency. In three of the books I’ve read in the last month, first person PoV is interrupted every other section by a third person narration, or – even more bewilderingly – a shift in verb tense.

These stylistic choices were probably made to put certain characters in focus, to make sure that the reader is paying attention – a little too much attention. Instead of feeling connected to the suggested protagonist (so designated by the 1st Person PoV), I wasted time trying to figure out why This Person was more important than That Person, a distraction that knocked an otherwise captivating book down a star.

Whatever you’ve heard, there are rules for writing. The catch is that those rules can be broken at any time – as long as there’s a reason. There are a lot of craft reasons for tense choice, peculiar narrative structure, or voice, but splitting focus within the pages only forces the reader to split his or her focus on the story. Breaking up a first person PoV, for instance, with 3rd person interludes is fairly common – sometimes an author wants the reader to learn something that the first person narrator has no way of knowing – but it’s a trick that should be used sparingly. Otherwise, the reader might start to wonder why the author didn’t use an omniscient point of view all the way through.

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