07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Monday, January 13, 2014

Writing in First Person or Third - A Tough Choice?

by Shobhan Bantwal

As authors we sometimes find ourselves torn between writing in first person and third person. I know I have, on a number of occasions. Consequently I have two novels written in first person and four in third person. My latest book, The Reluctant Matchmaker is in first person and has earned good reviews.

Both kinds have their pros and cons, which is why some of us find the decision so hard to make. Here are some of my own thoughts about the negatives and positives of each approach.

First-person stories:

  * I enjoy the more personal and intimate examination and mining of the protagonist's psyche.

   * Every scene is portrayed through the eyes, ears, and emotions of the heroine/hero.

   * Depending on how skillfully an author develops the main character, this "from-the-heart" story-telling could hook the reader from page one.

   * If the character is uncomplicated, the amount of research needed may be minimal since it encompasses only one person's depth of knowledge.

   * Self-examination and self-recrimination can be deeper and even brutally honest. 

   * However, the "I-I, Me-Me, My-My"-filled pages can make the protagonist seem self-centered. Some reviews of my own books have alluded to this unfortunate element.

   * The author loses the opportunity to introduce all the other significant characters' thoughts which can potentially make or break a novel.

Third-person stories:

   * The author has the luxury of delving into more than one character's mind and introducing many points of view.

   * Each character develops multiple facets, adding rich and fascinating layers to the emerging story.

   * The dynamics of complicated relationships and communications can be rendered more effectively, with every character given a reason for their respective words and actions.

   * On the other hand, there is the inherent risk of the author's omniscient voice "telling" too much and not "showing" enough.

   * Also, too many POVs can clutter up the story and/or complicate the plot.

Have you struggled with this first-person versus third-person issue? Tell us about it.

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Stacy McKitrick said...

I guess I've been lucky -- I have never been tempted to write in first person. It's not my favorite to read, so maybe that has something to do with it. :)

I guess if I wrote mysteries, it would be different (I expect mysteries to be in first), but I write romance and I want the reader to know what both parties are feeling/thinking, because that's what I want when I read them.

Readers expect certain voices with certain genres. Does that make it right? Probably not. I can only go by what this reader (me) loves, so that's what I write.

Shobhan Bantwal said...


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. You may be right in that romance lends itself better to third person. I always struggle a bit with this dilemma, hence the post on today's blog.

I appreciate your reading my post and adding your comments.

Sarah Raplee said...

I've written all my stories in third person limited, usually only including the hero, heroine and villain's POVs (romance.)In my most complex novel, I've included the POVs of the most important secondary characters.

I'd like to write something in first person POV. You can't get much closer to the protagonist than inside their head! For that reason, many YA novels are written in first person. Less experienced readers are more easily immersed in a character when there is less distance between them.

Great post!

Diana McCollum said...

I don't care for books written in first person. I've tried several, six maybe, and only found one I could finish reading. I write in third person. I have to know what the hero and heroine are thinking and feeling.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Shobhan,
I don't particularly like books written in the 1st person, it is kind of restrictive in that you can only write what the hero/heroine actually see, feel etc. Third person gives you much more scope.



Shobhan Bantwal said...

Sarah, Margaret, and Diana,

Thank you for sharing your opinions. Always good to hear what other writers have to say about the different writing-related topics.

Good luck to all of you in your 2014 projects!

Lisa Cardiff said...

I love this article. My current WIP was in first person, but I went back and changed it after five chapters. I don't think I'll try it again. I started feeling like my character was self-absorbed and I didn't like her. Is that how we all sound in our head?

Judith Ashley said...

Interesting post, Shobhan. I've not written in 1st person but I have read several.