Do you write in 1st person or 3rd?
Writers must answer an insane number of questions, make an unfathomable number of decisions, and solve innumerable problems before we even start putting words on a page. One of the first questions has to do with point of view. What point of view (POV) am I going to write in? Present tense or past? First person or third?
While irrelevant perhaps to many readers who just enjoy a good story, it’s a big deal for us writers. It sets the whole tone of the story and defines how the reader will interact with the main character. So, it’s a vital part of writing a book and many writers tend to pick a style and stick to it. The question is: how do we decide?
Well, let’s look at some pros and cons of each.
Writing in 3rd person
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these terms, third person point of view is when the main character(s) are referred to as ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘we’. In other words, the narrator is not the main character.
This can offer some separation between the narrator and the main character. Perhaps it’s utilized to lessen some mental or emotional strain as the character undergoes deeply overwhelming and heart-wrenching trauma. Or perhaps it’s utilized to offer more insight into the main character’s motions and psyche which the main character may not realize themselves.
Writing in 1st Person
Now first person is the exact opposite of third person. The main character refers to themselves as ‘I’ or ‘we’ because they are the narrator of the story. They are telling the reader what is (or has) happened to them.
This particular writing style offers a deeper connection with the reader because the main character is able to tell the reader from their own perspective without needing an intermediary person. This can be especially useful for snarky, sarcastic, or comedic characters as they can utilize this method to leave commentary for the reader in their own voice.
Matter of Preference
As to which is better for the writer or the reader, I can’t say. Why? Because it’s a matter of preference.
Some writers love to write in first person because their character ‘takes over’ while they’re writing. They need not actively think about what the character is thinking or doing. It just comes to them as if they are the character.
Other writers prefer third person, perhaps because the writer has a bigger picture of the story, or need to point out different details, or they see the character as someone they know/made and not someone who they seem themselves as being. Perhaps the main character is even someone they aspire to be.
So it really depends on the writer and their personal connection with the main character.
Another side to the debate is what type of story one is trying to tell. Often times first person stories are written in order to express the main character’s journey, focusing on them specifically the entire time and their particular struggles. On the other hand, third person has the opportunity to step back from a singular character and look at the fictional world and its story as a whole and simply follow the character’s place in that world.
Whatever the author-specific chose may be, I think it’s safe to say that some POVs are more common in certain genres than others. Namely, it’s quite commonplace for adult fiction to be written in third person while young adult (YA) fiction is written in first person. Why? Who knows!
Maybe it’s because YA stories often have a coming-of-age theme to them, the struggles are more personal for the character. Or perhaps it’s because teens and young adults (or readers in general) enjoy reading books that sound like a friend is telling a story, someone to relate to, to root for, to care about. First person POV offers this type of reader-character relationship.
Or perhaps adult fiction is more focused on the world and the extra players in it that wouldn’t be talked about enough if the story were written in first person. Perhaps adult fiction stories have more players in general or focus on wider, more complicated, more intermingled themes.
It’s hard to say, but there is definitely a trend, wouldn’t you agree?
My big question for the day, though, is: what do you prefer? Writers, do prefer writing in 1st or 3rd person? Do you end up preferring to read in the point of view that you write in? And readers, do you notice a difference when reading a story in first or third person? Do you prefer to read one over the other?
And check out last week’s writerly discussion:
“Stereotypes in Fiction“