How to Change Point of View in a Narrative
In a narrative story or essay, the narrator provides information the reader needs to understand the story. The narrator point of view may be first person or third person. In a first-person narrative, the narration is subjective, from the viewpoint of one or more characters. Third-person narration relates the story from an external point of view. In revealing the story, you can change the point of view to give the story depth and a variety of viewpoints, but it requires skillful handling to avoid confusion.
Multiple Internal Narrators
A long narrative such as a novel may contain more than one narrator. Use the protagonist to provide one point of view and minor characters to offer additional narrative information the reader needs. Begin a new chapter or story section when you change narrators so the reader catches the viewpoint switch. For example, the protagonist reveals her thoughts and motives while driving along the road to a meeting. In the next chapter you tell the story from the perspective of the person she is meeting, providing that character’s thoughts and preparations for the meeting. The reader sees the change in narrators and processes the new information to get a more complete understanding of what will happen next.
Embedded Internal Narratives
Use one primary narrator such as the protagonist, but reveal more of the story through embedded narratives. For example, your protagonist tells his therapist about a conversation he had with his mother. In relating that conversation, you get the mother’s point of view. Additional conversations with the therapist reveal viewpoints of other characters, including characters that only appear in the story through the related conversations. The change in viewpoint is clear and occurs as a natural plot element.
External Written Sources
Use a diary, letter or other written source to provide another point of view in the narrative without making your reader privy to additional thoughts of the character. For example, a mother reads her daughter’s diary and discovers information about her daughter’s frame of mind or actions that she didn’t know prior to reading the diary. A magazine or newspaper article the protagonist reads provides objective information about story events your character relates to from a more emotional viewpoint. The use of the written sources immediately alerts the reader you have changed the point of view without impeding the flow of the story.
Introduction and Story
Begin your narrative with an introduction that sets up the story with an omniscient point of view. The first chapter moves the reader into the mind and heart of the protagonist who takes over the narration. The third-person narrator in the introduction offers an objective viewpoint, and the protagonist reveals the story from his biased viewpoint. The end of the introduction should clearly inform the reader that the external narrator will no longer provide information once the story begins.
Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.