Zigzag Narratives #atozchallenge #writing

For the very last post of the A-Z challenge, I wanted to write about narration.

As authors, we have a number of options where narration is concerned, but the most common are omniscient narration, where an all-knowing narrator tells the story and can thus include the perspectives and feelings of a number of characters, or first person, where we hear the entire story from one person’s perspective.

_1011934 by Koan

And then we have zigzag narrations: third person close narration, where different scenes are narrated from different points of view. It has the closeness of first person with the variety of omniscient narration and is very popular right now (sharing the “most popular” slot with first person narration). Third person close narration tells the story, first one way and then another, like a winding road, and you get where you’re going, but it can take a little longer and be a more varied journey in doing so. (The “scenic” route, as it were.) 🙂

But how do you do it effectively? Here are three tips to helping you manage this squiggly approach to telling a story.

Pick your point of view. Some scenes are told best from a particular character. For example, showing one of the opening scenes in a murder mystery from the point of view of the murderer would spoil the whole surprise–unless you want it to be a murder drama, where the reader knows who did it and is just waiting to see how the detective figures it out, Columbo style.

Likewise, some characters are better for certain scenes. They have the right perspective, in that moment, whether for humor, romance, understanding what is going on, etc. You can always play around with a scene, writing it from a couple points of view before deciding which one fits your novel best, but ultimately, only one person can tell the story per scene.

Stay with that character. Until a scene or chapter break, you should not switch to another point of view. Doing so is head-hopping, and it can be quite disorienting. (I wrote a post with an amusing example of how badly head-hopping can be here.)

Make the point of view interesting. You should be able to pick any place in your novel and know who the point-of-view character is, just from the tone and words involved. Some people use long words; others like simple syntax and diction. Some are very sensitive to colors and smells, while others would hardly notice.One might hate a particular smell or style while another is drawn to it. One might like it warm while the other is always freezing.

If you asked your friends to describe where you live, none of them would pick the same details. Some might start by giving directions–the street or neighborhood–while others might start inside the house, with decor, size of rooms, or overall style. Still others might talk about the outside of the building, the architecture, siding, and landscaping. And fictional characters are the same way. They won’t see things in the same way. If you can describe a place while filtering the description through the character, you can accomplish two tasks at the same time and make the description more interesting. Because it won’t be “just description” then.  It’ll be telling the reader something about the characters at the same time.


Thank you to everyone who stopped by during the A to Z challenge! I hope you’ll stick around and stay in touch, even now that the challenge is winding to a close. See you all next year! (Maybe) 🙂

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by Koan, Creative Commons

4 thoughts on “Zigzag Narratives #atozchallenge #writing

  1. I live and breathe third-person omniscient. It’s the classic default POV for a reason. Most of the books I read growing up were in that POV, and I write historicals with ensemble casts, so it’s only natural I’d chose it. Even when a book is rarely focused on just one character, I still write third-person omniscient for all intents and purposes. It’s kind of sad how it’s fallen into disuse in North America in recent years, to the point where I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had an exchange like this:

    Reader: “How would [Name] know this?”

    Me: “I write third-person omniscient. I’m stating that as the narrator, not as a character.”

    It’s like a lot of people who haven’t read any older books have no idea third-person omniscient still exists, or how to recognize it.


    1. I think, sometimes, we don’t know how to recognize a narrator (when they’re very subtle in their presence) and thus assume that we’re getting this directly from the author. In many ways, I think it’s important to draw out the presence of the narrator and give him or her a clear personality, too, to where we can understand that we’re dealing with a particular sort of person who has a particular view and ideas and is helping us navigate the story. I think, in many ways, the voice of the narrator is one of the greatest strengths of omniscient narration, and yet we aren’t taught to notice them because they don’t really “do” anything, in terms of plot and cause-and-effect. 🙂


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