All Sides of the Story


Traditionally, stories pick a point of view and stick with it: universal, first person, third person close, whatever. Skipping about is thought to make the story too broken up and also confuse or jar the reader. I’ve read one huge novel where each quarter was a different 1st person POV telling the next part of the story, which worked quite well although it always took me a while to accept the new narrator.

But what about seeing the same scene from completely different viewpoints? Because sometimes it brings a whole new dimension to the story. Not often, I grant you, the moment has to be picked and the storytelling technique has to be handled very well indeed. It’s against all the rules, but there are millions of grammatical exceptions in the English language so why not the occasional writing one?

So much fun can come from conjecturing on the other side’s opinion. It’s a terrible, tragic example but the online novella that Stephanie Meyer wrote from Edward Cullen’s POV was devoured by Twilight fans to the point where she had to take it down again. Some of my favourite excerpts of books to go back to are the ones where you get a tiny glimpse into the head of someone who isn’t the narrator. It’s that insatiable curiosity to know everything.


Assuming that the scenario and characters suit such an approach every now and then, how do you approach it from a technical point of view. You can’t just throw a random chapter in with a different voice – that really will confuse the audience. Doing alternate chapters means that you’re giving multiple POVs on every scenario, which is unnecessary, jumps about too much for the reader to submerge themselves into the story, and completely takes the special shine off the few times when adding that additional voice brings something different.

I’ve done it with letters, epilogues and hallucinations. I’m not sure how well any of them worked. This was never a solutions blog. At best, what I’m saying here is: despite the general wisdom of ‘pick a voice and stick with it’, I think sometimes it’s worth bending the rule. In the right place, it can be magic.


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