Tuesday Talks Discussion Group on GoodReads. I saw a reference to this group when reading a member’s blog—it sounded interesting, as did the topic.
First Person or Third Person: Which do you prefer?
I’ve had to think about this question in my own writing, and I’m not sure I’ve ever resolved anything/ I like both, and each has its own strength and its own weakness weaknesses.
With first person you have immediate access to the perspectives, emotions, thoughts, and memories of a character, without added explanation about how the reader would know this—fewer instances of ‘she thought’, and so forth. The reader develops a very intimate relationship with the main character, and it’s easy to be absorbed by is or her perspective.
You only see the story, and the world, through the senses of one character. The story may be much more complex than this—important things could be happening when the character is not present, and you don’t get the perspective of other characters, except through the observations of the main character, plus there isn’t an outside narrator who can provide other information relevant to the story.
The entire world, all the characters, and the story is available to the reader, including information that is harder to present through the main character, who will need added dialogs and—perhaps—independent first person research to learn.
You can vary the primary perspective in each chapter or scene and the story still flows well. This is another important matter when writing—to maintain a perspective in each scene—that is, it’s written in third person, but the observations all come from one character. To change perspectives you need a shift, which can be accomplished with a new chapter or a new scene by breaking the flow with a glyph. I didn’t always appreciate how this may have affected readers—I liked the shifts in thought access, but I understand this can be hard to follow.
In third person, the reader may feel disconnected from the characters. It can be sterile if the writer doesn’t take care. Certainly it’s far easier to connect the reader to the character in first person.
In my most recent book, I began writing it as a hybrid, first person perspective when the main character was there and third person when she wasn’t. This varied from chapter to chapter, although most chapters were first person. This can jar the reader who may not be expecting it, but it is a way to tap into both strengths. Ultimately, I rewrote the entire novel in the third person and worked hard trying to retain the same emotional content for the main character. I still think Hybrid could work, but will have to think hard before doing it again. I liked the first person intimacy—plus the broader knowledge and story it offered. Still, my editors and alpha readers sometimes struggled.
This can work, but the story needs to be broken into segments where the shifts are clearly delineated. The book “Wonder” did this successfully. I enjoyed the story and it was good to get the multiple perspectives.
In the end, both of my published books and the book I’m working on now are written in the third person, although in the current book I use another trick: periodic journal entries from the main character. These are naturally written in the first person for her. Also, I have a second main character who only appears in short interludes. His segments are almost like diary entries, and are written in the first person for reasons I can’t say yet. This new book involves complicated interrelationships and a complex plot. Some of its chapters are out of sequence in time, too.
I think it’s important to experiment with alternate approaches.