The Key to a Great Story – Breaking Perspective Rules



In my posts so far discussing perspective I’ve been saying that you should choose one perspective and stick with it. Generally it is a rule of thumb I would still recommend that you stick with, but more advanced writing techniques don’t always stick to this rule.

Multiple Third Person Restricted Perspective

The restricted third person means that when you are writing a story you are restricted to the perspective of the character that you have chosen to tell the story. However, when done well, there’s nothing to stop you from changing the point of view between different characters. Generally speaking this switch would come as a new chapter starts.

One of the best known examples of how this is done is in George R.R. Martin’s  A Song of Ice and Fire series, where each chapter is from a different character’s perspective.

Another famous example is the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which is written from the perspective of Frank Bryce, the gardener to the Riddles. The majority of all of the Harry Potter series is written from the perspective of Harry Potter, apart from a select few chapters at the beginning of the books used to set the scene and tone of the rest of the book.

Blending Third Person Restricted with Third Person Unlimited

I wouldn’t recommend that you use this technique very often, but it is a very good technique to employ, perhaps to help set a scene at the beginning of the book. Because what I’m talking about here isn’t having one chapter as unlimited and then in the next restricting the viewpoint, which is entirely possible, but would maybe be a bit odd. What I mean here is doing it within the same chapter.

Doing that though would require a great deal of skill and control over your story, and I can only recommend that you do it sparingly. What this technique could be useful for is for a chapter that is needed to set up the story, but when it can’t be done purely from only one character’s perspective. So how to go about doing it would be to use the restricted viewpoint the majority of the time and then the unlimited viewpoint as your transition between the two characters.

Now many could argue that this would then simply be the third person unlimited entirely, but it isn’t, because when you do have a character to focus on you stick to the rules about only telling the story based on what they observe, and then only use the unlimited viewpoint when you are moving from one character to the next, but that is only for a couple of sentences at the very most.

A famous example of this technique being employed comes again from Harry Potter, but this time from the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The opening paragraphs are from an unlimited view, before switching to Vernon’s view, and then transitioning using unlimited to show the audience Dumbledore’s arrival watched by Minerva as a cat, before going into the restricted view of Minerva. The chapter ends on the unlimited viewpoint, which even knows what’s going to happen to Harry in the morning when his aunt finds him on the doorstep.

And the tell-tale signs that this is what happened is because the audience is given no information beyond what Vernon and Minerva know when we are limited to their viewpoint. No further explanation is given to the audience to explain why the wizards are out in force in cloaks, and no insight into Dumbledore’s thoughts are explained as he sits on the wall with Minerva.  Honestly the chapter is a masterpiece in how to write well and blend changes in perspectives seamlessly – it also took J.K. Rowling 15 to 20 drafts to perfect.

Mixing Third Person and First Person

Generally speaking the only why you would ever see this happen would be if there was an extract included in the story that is written by a character themselves, such as a letter (or an email) or a diary extract. This is a great way to add a bit of personal depth to a story if you think this would be an applicable technique to employ.

The only other way that you could mix the first person and third together would be to have some chapters written in one perspective and then others written in the other. However, the only time I have ever seen this done was in Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, where the majority was in the third person, and then shorter chapters was in the first from the imagined perspective of the pigeon that the main character is fixated by. I would say if you’re doing this, do so sparingly in order for the impact of doing it to have more punch.

Multiple First Person Perspective

From what I am aware the internet pretty much says this is a big no-no. And it is the rule I break all the time; I prefer the first person as a writer but I like having more freedom in which perspective to use, so I change the character perspectives. Sometimes this is as the chapter changes, and sometimes it is in the middle of a chapter, usually when in the mildly violent world of my books my character is knocked out.

Now I have seen examples in the real world where beyond my own writing when this does happen, sometimes because the main character is out of it but sometimes because the main character has even died. Jacob Black has his own perspective for a portion of the fourth Twilight book, and I found the change quite refreshing, even if it did come out of the blue.

Generally speaking though this is not an easy way to write a story and in the majority of cases I would recommend that you use either of the third person perspectives if you want to switch between characters. My preference for using this technique comes from what I was inspired by when I was going up, mainly from when I used to read K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series.

The books are all written in the first person, but each book rotated between the main character’s first person perspectives. I absolutely loved the books because they were very original and each character had a distinctive voice. However I was at an age when I was reading more complex works as well, along the lines of epic length fantasy works by Tolkien and Terry Brooks, so I didn’t really view the books as individual entities, merely chapters of a larger piece. Because I felt that and because they had a massive influence on me I’ve sort of adapted the rotating first person perspective in my own work.


Again as I’ve said before perspective is a choice that only you can make, but as you can see from the more advanced techniques I’ve described here, choosing the right one does not need to be as simplistic as you would imagine.







About kabrown4

A quaint life full of teacups searched for inspiration to fuel a writer dreaming of fantasy worlds that are full of friends found only in words. I have been writing for as long as I can remember and over the years I have developed many stories and many characters. This is my blog about the journeys I've been on over the years, and the road I'm still travelling as a writer.

3 responses »

  1. Pingback: The Key to a Great Story – The Basics of Perspective | A Young Writer's Notebook

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