12.4: Hybrid Viewpoints

Your Hosts: Brandon, Piper, Dan, and Howard, with Sandra Tayler

Piper J. Drake joins the cast for our week-four episodes, of which this is the first. This week we’ll be drilling down into hybrid viewpoints—blending 1st and 3rd person, framing stories, stories-within-stories, and unreliable narration—and how to best serve our work with these techniques.


Put a framing story around something you’ve already written.

Absolute Trust, by Piper J. Drake

10 thoughts on “12.4: Hybrid Viewpoints”

  1. I know most of the episodes are recorded already (and I don’t know the upcoming topics for this year), but it would be amazing if you could do some practical prose related episodes.

    It could be revision oriented, like this video of Brandon from one of his classes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_SX3qwlb3Y. I would love to see more writing pieces like this, either from one of the cast or from readers, torn apart and edited on the podcast. It could be a short scene from a longer work, or maybe even a very short story.

    The actual wordsmithing is something I think many of us struggle with, and it would be great to hear from you guys about that.

  2. Due to a crying baby, I had to listen to this episode three times before I could catch it all. He must not like writing excuses, but I love it, and this episode was great.

    I have another example of a book that does flashbacks really well: Caught in Crystal by Patricia C. Wrede. Here is the blurb about the book if you’re interested.
    For more than a decade, Kayl has run a modest country inn. She opened it with her husband, and they managed it together until a summer illness took him away, leaving her alone with their two children. The three of them get by, living happily together as the years pass, but everything changes the day a sorceress asks for a room.

    Her name is Corrana, and by her silver brooch Kayl knows that she is a member of the order of Sisterhood of Stars, a coven of witches that Kayl left after a secret mission went horribly wrong. Kayl is sure that Corrana has come to take her back to the life she had renounced years before. Now, to save her family and her world, she will have to unlock a side of herself that she buried long ago.

  3. Mixing it up, the Utah Crew, consisting of Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Piper J. Drake, talk about frame stories, story within a story, and flashbacks! All ways to have your viewpoint and that one too. They give examples, and talk about why you might use one of these in your playbook, as well as why you might avoid them. So, read the transcript, in the archives or over here


    And then, put your story in a context with a frame, add some tales at the bar with a story within a story, or even flashback and tell us all about the time when…

  4. Last year, I just finished writing–or rather “completing” my ‘first novel’ – it’s just the first novel I actually finished of all my attempts. Anyway…it was told in first person and I chose that purposely because I knew I had a good grasp on voice, and wanted to tell a relationship story that also had the main character sort of growing and realizing that how they view this other person isn’t necessarily the most…objective, or even correct. Anyway…it had a lot of emotional nuance (or at least that was the attempt). However, it’s a teenage fantasy adventure…so there was ‘stuff’ happening and I realized that from a plot perspective, there was a lot happening in the world or in other places/with other characters that wasn’t coming across because either my first person just didn’t have the physical ability to be there and gain that knowledge or have certain reactions, or it was stuff that she just…couldn’t know or didn’t pick up on–basically, I was reading it as a reader and being confused as to how things came about logically because information was kept away from the reader–but not in a good way. And so now I set it aside for several months, and I’ve returned and I’m wondeirng what I should do. I could make it 3rd person which allows for me to get the needed snippets for the reader, but I’m worried it might not highlight the strong voice that I got from the MC. Is there a way to balance doing a first person story with 3rd person snippets occasionally? How would I do that? It’s an undertaking either way–but certainly transitioning an entire viewpoint versus altering a current one is the dilemma I am facing.

    Basically: How do you introduce information to the reader that the first-person narrator wouldn’t know, especially if wanting to keep it in 1st person POV and with the restraints of physics keeping the character from just ‘being’ in certain situations to know. Is a hybrid method best? If I switch to 3rd POV, should/could I keep some 1st tidbits? It’s hard to know how to fix this issue, and I can’t wrap my mind around other options that aren’t just completely revising it all to be 3rd.

    1. In this situation, I would definitely keep the first person protagonist–don’t mess with a voice if it’s working, especially if messing with it would be that much unnecessary work. There is precedent for changing between first and third person within a work–see The Martian, The 5th Wave, The Amulet of Samarkand, and The Princess Bride, just to name a few. As long as you make sure the focal character(s) of the tidbits has a story arc of their own, you should be fine moving back and forth between the perspectives.

    2. It sounds to me like you need to switch POV at times during the novel. It could be switching to another established character, it could be creating a new character, or it could be switching to various side characters, either once, or going back to them. I highly recommend reading The Martian because it pretty much does exactly what you are trying to do. There were things that had to happen that Mark Watney couldn’t know about and he switched to third person to let us know about them.

      Remember that you can also switch to alternate first person POVs, although that can be confusing if you don’t signpost really well.

  5. I want to have a frame for my story, with a character telling their story but I’ve found that I write much better in third person. I’m not sure if/how I could do this while keeping the book all in third person.

    1. The Ranger’s Apprentice short story anthology is entirely in third person even though the overall frame story would imply that it shouldn’t be. What I’m saying is that you can get away with it if you really want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You could also see this as an opportunity to improve your first person writing skills. If it helps, you can try each scene in first person first and go back to third if you hit a creative wall (and fix it back to first when editing later). Not the most efficient thing in the world, but you just need to get words on paper first and worry about the major problems later.

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