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  1. #1
    Ed Scanlan

    1st vs 3rd person narrative

    I notice that many if not most fiction writers these days use the 1st person narrative. I assume it's because it's easier to be expressive, witty and find a unique voice. Does anyone prefer the 3rd person? I'd be interested in people's thoughts on the advantages/disadvantages of both.

  2. #2
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative

    3rd person works best if you have more than one character you're going to focus on. The story I'm doing now involves three POV characters, so 1st person wouldn't work. Some people have done multiple 1st person POV but I think it's a little confusing.

  3. #3
    Busy Lizzy

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative

    3rd person is definitely a must, if you are switching between different strands of action. My MC is hanging out on an island, while, at home, her best friend is trying to get her ex-fiancee into bed.

    Logically, the MC can't be involved in this part of the plot and I have to opt for 3rd person for my narrative to work.

    1st person is great, because you get almost instant reader-character identification, but you are very restricted. You can't describe your character through the eyes of some one else (which can be a very interesting ploy).
    You can't move to a different location and show what is going on somewhere else where your MC isn't.

    So it really depends on what kind of book you are writing.

    IMO, the best help in making the decision "1st or 3rd for me?" is to try writing your book in the first person. If it works, carry on. If you feel you have to bend over backward to make it work, opt for the 3rd person.

  4. #4
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative

    Busy Lizzy,

    I'm not sure I agree with your advice about choosing first person POV first to decide what the appropriate POV is. I think the choice is more complicated than that. Some stories demand first person because of the nature of the story itself. For example, if want an unreliable narrator (one who with holds information or lies to the reader), then you need first person to make it work.

    First person creates an intimacy with the reader. The reader lives inside the narrator's head, sees only what the narrator sees, knows only what the narrator chooses to reveal. Third person allows the author more flexibility. The author can bring the camera in close for what is sometimes called close-in third POV. In this case, you have a lot of internal monologue (the character's thoughts) that place the reader inside the character's head. However, the narration still uses the he/she POV. If the author wants more distance--perhaps to add some backstory or description--he can slide into a more omniscient 3rd POV that uses no internal monologue. If the transitions are smooth and unobtrusive, the reader will be unaware of the shift, accepting the camera pulling back for a long shot of the scene.

    I believe the POV choice is dependent on a number of factors:

    the narrator's relationship with the reader
    the author's intimacy with the character
    the number of main characters (more than one may require multiple viewpoints)
    plot and subplot (If the main plot relies on the narrative voice of the main character, who reveals the subplot? The author? The omniscient voice? Another character?)

    Of all of the things I've listed above, the most important issue is the reader's relationship/intimacy with the narrative voice/narrator. How much do you want your reader to know about the main character? How close do you want the reader to be?


  5. #5
    Josh Lemay

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative

    I've done first and third depending on the story. My preference is for third person limited/subjective, though. I think this is kind of a cop out, because I get to use different benefits from third and first person, but I'm ok with it. Apparently, according to wikipedia, this is the most popular point of view at the moment, too.

    I mainly stick with focusing on one character(or a set of characters, depending on the story), but will very rarely give some insight into how another character is thinking. With first person, you can kind of do this, but it's mainly a guess from the narrators point of view. With third person, you could technically do it as much as you want, but I find with limited/subjective, when and if I do give some thoughts from another character, it has more impact since it's not something that happens often.

  6. #6
    Joe Zeff

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative

    Rogue, I suggest you read The Number Of The Beast, by Bob Heinlein. There are four POV characters, and each chapter is narrated by whichever one is appropriate, all in first person.

  7. #7
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative

    Yes, Zeff, I know some have done this. (The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough are two others I remember reading that use multiple 1st person POV.) It's just harder to do that well than to just use 3rd person.

  8. #8
    Busy Lizzy

    Re: 1st vs 3rd person narrative


    I agree with you 100%, of course. Trust you to come with a very illuminating and systematical comment on this question, where mine was more or less helpless garble.

    I just wanted to stress (very subjectively, mind) that the 1st person is for me the King's road. I personally find that books in the 1st Person nearly always impress me more than 3rd-person ones. I think that is why people tend to try to write in 1st person, even if you have to make sacrifices in order to pull it through.

    Busy Lizzy

  9. #9
    Anthony Ravenscroft


    Newer writers should avoid both first-person & present-tense writing. The former quickly shreds as the writer tries to sneak in omniscience (& usually giving up on the joys of snarky opinion); the latter almost immediately begins to pile on flashback & backfill.

    Oh, it's a great bit of exercise, stretching out the writer's abilities. However, after reviewing a couple thousand manuscripts (from series novels to shorts), I'd have to say that in most cases choosing one of those "easier" options tends to doom an interesting story.

    Get some experience & some publication credits, or accept that you're going to have to do a lot of actual work learning your craft before you get anywhere near publishability -- & one thing that eager noobs are lacking is willingness to WORK.

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