I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. My first story was about two pre-teen spies, the youngest members of a top secret spy organization in Canada. They fought big baddies with cool gadgets, all while attending regular public school. Yes, Ali and Jay were my first dabble into the world of writing and creating stories, but when it came time for me to start the process of putting the words down onto the page, I had a crucial decision to make.
Why am talking about some unfinished kids story I wrote years ago, you ask? Well, it’s because that crucial decision I had to make was which point of view (referred to here on out as POV) I was going to use. At the time, it was an easy decision. It had to be third person. Every book I’d read up until then was written that way. It was all I knew.
Recently, I’ve been struggling with a POV decision in my latest manuscript project, so I thought I’d share my conflicting struggles here and do what I usually do to work out an issue: write it out. Currently, my story is being written in third person POV, but everything I’ve worked on over the past four years has been first person POV. Here lies my problem. Which one works best? What are the pros and cons of each?
So, we begin.
Third person POV is the most commonly found POV in novels, though some will argue first person is making a compelling surge into the marketplace. The immediately obvious reason why third person works well for writing is the freedom it gives you. Having your narrator separate from the story allows for them to jump from character to character, providing the reader with a wide lens of the story’s universe. This can be very helpful if you have a multi-plot novel, where you constantly need to jump around covering different events that are happening. This freedom also works in a different way though, as it allows the author to write important scenes without the protagonist present. Out of all the pros third person presents, this is the one I always wish I have when working in first person.
Some people argue that third person allows for easier transition between characters if you have a multi-character POV story – and I understand why this is the case. It’s much simpler to keep straight who the story is following if the reader is constantly being reminded of the character’s name. In first person, it’s more difficult to garner than separation.
One of the biggest things I think third person POV novels are good for happens to be genre-specific. If you’re writing a thriller or mystery – or just something that has a lot of suspense – third person is a very enticing option. Why? Well, the reader doesn’t ever know if the protagonist is going to die or not. Because third person isn’t inside of the character’s head in the same way first person allows, the reader can’t confirm if they survive or not. For example, if the narrator sounds like “I went to the store”, the reader can assume the character survives their excursion to the store since they are now commenting on it. In third person, however, where the narrator sounds more like “She went to the store”, the reader has no idea what happens afterwards.
- Protagonist character descriptions are much easier, since the narrator is easily able to view everyone
- The narrator is USUALLY more objective and reliable than first person POV since they aren’t an actual character involved in the plot of the story
In the other corner is first person POV. This is the POV that I write most frequently in, so I would say it comes most naturally to me, though it definitely has its flaws. Here, I’m going to focus on the benefits of first person.
Personally, I believe that the best part of first person POV is the personal connection the reader gets to the narrator (which most of the time ends up being the protagonist). Being able to get inside the mind of the character means most of the time it’s easier to relate to them, since the reader experiences everything the narrator is thinking and feeling. Naturally, it feels more intimate to have a narrator as a first person POV. Not only do you get to understand how they think, but you feel as if they’re telling you some sort of an oral story and to some extent feel like you may be along for the ride.
Character development falls somewhat into my previous point about intimacy with the narrator. Due to the nature of first person POV, the reader gets to discover things about the narrator-character that normally couldn’t be show or told if done so through a different narrative structure. You can discover hidden traits of the character through their word choices, sentence structures, speech patterns, thought processes… just to name a few.
First person POV also allows for an easy blend between real life and the fictional world a reader explores. Since we experience our day-to-day lives in first person, experiencing everything first hand, it’s a good fit to have a story told in the same manner. This mirroring of real life adds to that intimate bond a reader forms with a first person POV narrator.
- First person POV can create a narrative filter if an author wishes to lead their readers down a particular path – an unreliable narrator can cause confusion, or even plot twists
- Works well for specific genres – especially Y.A., due to the nature of the genre
I’m not going to say whether first or third person POV are the better option; I believe that both can be effective if used in the right way. As I’ve already mentioned earlier, I prefer to write in first person POV, though I think that’s mainly because I feel I can get inside the head of the characters I’m working with if I write from them.
Both choices present challenges, though I think using a few tricks these problems can be solved. For example, third person has issues with character intimacy. I believe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing all the time – some distance and space from the characters can sometimes keep things from getting muddled up. Another solution to that problem? Write in character-focused third person POV, where the narrator follows one character at a time and is allowed inside the head of that particular person when following them.
First person has issues with creating scenes where the protagonist isn’t present. There’s an easy fix to this problem, I believe, and it’s writing a piece with multi-character POVs. By including other perspectives, not only does it keep the story fresh and interesting, it allows for parts of the story which happen when the protagonist isn’t around to exist in the narrative.
Overall, I think determining what point of view to write in depends on what you as an author want to present to your reader. There are positives and negatives to both options, though with enough creative thinking, the negatives can be turned into something better.
So I’ll leave you with that for this time. If you have anything you’d like to add to this discussion, please leave a comment. It’s always appreciated.
Until next time, and keep writing!