Hello and Welcome back to the blog! This is the first blog post written from my new home office, which is actually a corner of our master bedroom. My old office, located in the basement, is in the process of being transformed into a bedroom so our eight-year-old can have her own room, escaping her five-year-old sister. They bicker like, well, sisters. The wife and I hope a little time apart will help their relationship. Have you ever had a story’s length get away from you? I finished a short story recently that is 6,500 words. I didn’t have a set goal for the length upon starting out but intended to send it to some mags for possible publication. Having spent years writing short stories, I know there are magazine editors who will squirm at the thought of publishing a story of that length (No, it’s not really that long, but editors are limited by the total word count of each issue and the attention span of their audience). I’ve spent nearly two years focusing on novel writing and I guess I’ve gotten long winded during that span. Today’s topic is first and third person point of views.
(A note: Those that have read this blog are likely aware of my personal biases. I’ll try as hard as I can to remain impartial. In the off case it doesn’t happen, remember, we all have our opinions. This is mine.)
The way you tell a story has as big of an impact on the story as any plot twist. Nothing impacts the way you tell a story more than the point of view (POV) you choose to tell the story. Are you looking for an intimate look at a character’s life? Try first person on for size. Perhaps your story has a wide range of characters that play a crucial role. Third person would be a cozy fit. Which should you choose? Pros? Cons? Well, I have a list to help with that.
First Person POV
Definition: in the first-person point of view one of the characters tells the story from their perspective. This can be the main character in the story or a secondary character if you so choose.
Pronouns used: I, me, my, mine (singular) we, us, our, ours (plural)
Pros: it has the intimate feel of one person telling another a story. The character’s thoughts and emotions are expressed more freely, giving the reader a look inside his/her head. The writer can control the scope of the story that is shown to the reader.
Cons: The use of the pronoun I can be repetitive when handled by a novice writer. It can be limiting in terms of other characters thoughts and feelings. The subjective view can lead to the reader being deceived. Characters (and some of the writers) can come across as self-indulgent. Also, is just me or do some of these books skimp on the details?
Recommended Reading: The Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi, Lockwood & Co. Series by Jonathan Stroud, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
A short aside: Alright, it’s time to remove the impartiality for a moment. My twelve-year-old daughter prefers first person POV for two reasons. One, she can pretend she’s the main character because she’s twelve (i.e. selfish, but what kid isn’t?). Two, she likes the intimacy that’s created with the character. I’m using her as an example because it aligns well with the opinions I’ve read of other readers and writers on Twitter. I’ve got two brief statements to counter these points. I know I’m not the main character of a story (how boring would that book be?) and that’s fine with me. I have a high functioning imagination and come to the page ready to use it. While first person can create an intimacy with the reader, the same thing can be achieved with third person. It takes effort, but, yes, it can and has happened before. (I feel like that was snarky. Was it snarky? If so, mission accomplished.)
Third Person POV
Definition: the story is told by a narrator who is not part of the story. In third person limited the narrator’s knowledge is focused on one character and is told from their perspective. In third person omniscient an all-knowing narrator tells the story.
Pronouns used: He, she, him, her (singular) they, them, their (plural)
Pros: third person POV gives the writer the freedom to move between characters at their choosing. Secondary characters have more of a chance to develop without the biases of the main character having an impact. It provides an objective view of the story, allowing the reader to make decisions on their own. Honest. I’m the writer (more on this below).
Cons: Can be less intimate than first person, which can lead to the reader not identifying with the character. Switching the focus from one character to another on a repeated basis can occur, leading to a busy storyline with too many characters that are underdeveloped. “Head hopping” can occur if a writer is using third person omniscient. This happens when an all-knowing narrator describes the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters within the same scene (I’ve read bestselling writers who had this problem).
Recommended Reading: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, Monstrous Devices by Damien Love, The Dark Half by Stephen King
I’m the writer, explained. In first person the story is told by a character who lived through the plotline. If taken literally, and I am a literal person, that would mean the character’s vocabulary, grammar, tone, and other aspects that make up a writer’s voice would have to be sufficient to tell a story. I don’t know about you, but the average person in my life doesn’t have the skill or aptitude. Having spent most of my life writing, I have experience with voice and how to tell a story. Therefore, I consider myself the best person to tell the story.
Look, I’m not here to convince you to choose third person over first. That wouldn’t be right. Third person happens to be the best way I have to tell a story. I do have experience with first person, though I’ll admit it has always come within the confines of the short story. Yet third person is my go-to point of view, my default if you will. Try them both while writing a few short stories if you’re unsure what best suits you and your writing style. Remember, it’s about connecting with the reader through the story, and the story is king.
You can follow me on Twitter or Instagram, @StephenRoth316 for both. Click on the follow button at the bottom of this page and enter a valid email address for free updates on the blog. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth