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First or Third Person?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by LOCOFOOL, Sep 19, 2012.


    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

    Do you prefer first or third person? This question applies to both what you write and what you read; maybe give a little reason why.
    I personally like to read either one as long as the writing is good and understandable. I’ve seen both bad and great uses of both. As for my writing; I don’t know what my preference is. My current WIP is in third but I feel like I need more character depth that seems to be more prevalent in third person.
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    I like both reading and writing in both.

    First person puts the reader directly in the protagonist's head, and I love the conversational style tone that usually results. I also like the closeness to that character.

    Third person, in contrast, allows you more narrative distance giving you the ability to flit in and out of the character's head depending on the needs of the story. Basically, it gives you more flexability.

    I tend to think that genre, to a certain extent, plays a role in your decision making on this subject. My novel is epic fantasy. Third person limited seems to be the accepted standard. If I'm going to go against that standard, I feel that I'd need a good reason. On the other hand, were I writing a YA romance, I'd want to go first person, as that is the standard for that type of work.

    Another reason to go with 3rd: If you're doing frequent POV shifts, first person presents some problems in communicating to the reader who the POV character is.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts... Hope it helped.
  3. Aosto

    Aosto Sage

    I prefer reading in first person. I feel more connected to the MC that way. My writing bounces between the two depending on the type of story. I'm scrapping my WIP and re-working it as a first person, currently in third. Reason for this is there is an element to the character that I originally planned and then scrapped, but I want it back. For this element to be effective, it has to be written in first person. My MC is mute due to an event in his childhood. I need to capture internal dialogue and thought processes more effectively, I feel the only way to do this is first person.
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I like either one, if it is well done. From a writing standpoint, I think you can pretty much do the same things with either POV, though how you do them (and how successful it is) depends on your skill and perhaps on limitations or nuances of a particular POV.
  5. Wulvaine

    Wulvaine Dreamer

    While I'm not opposed to first-person in any way, I definitely have a preference for third-person both when reading and writing. Third-person limited is my home mode. As a reader, I like the ability it offers to view the world through multiple characters' eyes*, and as a writer, I like the challenge of defining hopefully unique voices for each POV character and the flexibility it offers.

    First-person definitely has its uses, but it's not terribly compatible with my usual writing style.

    * Not that first-person can't do that. It's just a little tougher to do it well when you have a cast of twelve people named "I" telling your story, haha.
  6. I prefer to write third person, but I don't have a reading preference.

    The writing preference... I dunno. First person just seems more difficult to write.
  7. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    Often, present tense writing trips me up, but that's no reason for me to hate that style. I'll still read the book if its good. So, no preferences.

    In writing fiction? I use the point of view that's best for the story. Nothing more, nothing less. Any attempt to force it into a mold otherwise would only be detrimental, right? Right. If for the story to hold up you need to be able to switch povs, then third works fine. If that's not the case then first would work. Genre sometimes comes into it for me, or just wanting a challenge.

    But yeah, I'm not a point of view elitist.
  8. J.P. Reedman

    J.P. Reedman Scribe

    I nearly always use third person in my own writing, and prefer it in the books I read too, though two of my favourites are first person. I find first person can be somewhat limiting.
  9. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    I think this is more like three interacting questions. You might almost think of them in a sequence:

    1. Multiple VPs in different scenes? --then:
    2. VP sharing within a scene? --then:
    3. 1st or 3rd?

    Saying yes to the first might be a logical way to handle a big world (Game of Thrones, or Game of Thrones, or...) or characters and threads separated from each other, but it can also be good for even an intimate tale if you want to take close looks at contrasting characters.

    The second question... well, I'm a viewpoint snob who thinks sticking with one character a scene is the answer to almost everything, but being able to shift around can build a sense that the adventure is bigger than one hero even at the moment. And it does give flexibility if you want different people seeing different things (teammates moving in and out of each other's view, lovers each getting their thoughts in on Why We'll Never Be Together). Shifting makes an effect similar to and compatible with different VPs per scene, but of course it doesn't have the impact of being firmly on one character one scene and then switched to someone different.

    (Not to be confused with head-hopping by mistake, where the author stays mostly with one guy a scene and so a thought from someone else seems like an accident. The times it isn't an accident but seems like it are as bad as the true errors.)

    For the last one, 1st vs 3rd person, if you know you're going to be shifting in mid-scenes you've already ruled out 1st person. (Well, if you formally "break the scene" right at one moment, to mark a change from one VP to another, it's not as bad.) But even for skips between scenes (or in a split scene), that kind of intimacy makes it harder to swallow switching around, as well as to recognize who you've "jumped into" --but again, the intimacy plus contrast might be just what the story wants. But mostly, if you get to this point, it really is about whether you want to be almost completely in his head or completely there.

    (I've got more on this on Viewpoint including my favorite example for people who think strong viewpoint means hobbling their exposition.)
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I disagree that switching mid-scene necessarily precludes first person. It might be difficult to do effectively, but I've seen authors do enough strange things with POV, including moving through multiple POV characters in a paragraph, that I don't rule it out.
  11. Guru Coyote

    Guru Coyote Archmage

    I usually start writing in 1st person, and often even in present-tense... and as mentioned already, that makes view-point switching harder.
    One very intriguing way I once read was this: It started out as 1st person with the character slowly becoming a narrator for what was doing on in the larger world. A bit like a narrator / storyteller character who is also an active part of the scene.
  12. First person is more limiting and thus somewhat harder to write. I generally recommend third person unless you're writing something specialized and really know what you are doing.

    That said, lots of great books are written in first person.
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I'm not sure how much more limiting it is. I see that said a lot. I think you have to do things differently, and people might differ on the effectiveness of it, but I'm not sure you can't get most of the same things done with both POVs.
  14. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    I can read and write in either. Though I prefer to write in third person I don't know why, I feel more comfortable I guess. First does allow you to get close to the characters, but I like to use multiple characters, and I like to hear different POV.
    I think what I need out of what I'm writing and write which POV I think fits it best.
    But I perfer third person.

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

    I've read a fantasy WIP my friend is writing and she actually switches pretty well between 1st and 3rd person; that's what lead me to this topic. I know plenty of people get stuck in doing either 1st and 3rd person because they get so comfortable with it. I just don't want to get like that by using third person to much.
    I love all the opinions people give. Thanks everyone!
  16. srcroft

    srcroft Minstrel

    For an unpublished Fantasy writer, 3rd person past Omniscient and Limited or a mix back and forth is the most likely to make it. 1rst person past, is the fasted moving, but is slightly harder to get that fantasy environment feel as we tend to be more descriptive then say D. Koontz.

    I would suggest never ever switch 3rd to 1rst. Its been done by pros, rarely. It can get your piece canned, but worst, if it pulls the reader out of the story by disorientating them--its not helpful. Writers spend lots of time orientating the reader, the moment you throw that off--if not done in a super intriguing and meaningful way--gives them the ability to put down your book and walk away.

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