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How does one determine whether to write from First-Person POV or Third-Person POV? (1 Viewer)

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MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
So I've struggled greatly with deciding upon whether to write my heroine's story from First-Person Point-of-View or Third-Person Point-Of-View. How do I determine which route to go? I've been doing a little bit of both. I love being inside her head and writing what she thinks, how she sees the world; maybe my only fear is because I'm a male author that I don't think like a female? I guess it always comes down to what's the difference between a male brain and a female brain? Maybe there's no difference at all. Does she view her male friends differently than her female friends? Lots of questions to answer, lots dealing with First-Person POV. Any pointers, let me know!
 

Sam

General
Patron
Depends on what genre you're writing.

First-person is acceptable for certain genres, as third-person is for others.

PS: You don't think like a female; you think like a character. All women are different. They have different likes, fears, goals, dreams, hates, etcetera. Writing a woman, regardless of what sex you are, is simply a matter of understanding the character.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
The decision is an artistic choice you must make. First person can (no guarantee it will) make the narrative seem more personal, but in practical terms, there is nothing you can do in first person you can't also do in third person. The difference is whether you type "I" or "She".

First person is regarded as more difficult, at least for plotting. In first person, you must stay with the character. You can only report conversations and events witnessed by or participated in by the first person narrator. You don't get to jump into another character's head for any of the many reasons author's do in third person. Because of plot restrictions, first person can be tougher for less experienced authors.

Here's a blog that goes into more detail:
https://www.novel-writing-help.com/3rd-person.html
 

Tiamat

Patron
I would say one should try it one way and see if it works. If it doesn't, try the other and see what happens. Experimentation is what first drafts are for. (And second drafts, and third drafts...)
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
First-person is acceptable for certain genres, as third-person is for others.

Prithee, good sir, elucidate. I've read both first and third in a wide variety of genres. Which one should I have not found to be acceptable based on POV vs genre?
 

Sam

General
Patron
Prithee, good sir, elucidate. I've read both first and third in a wide variety of genres. Which one should I have not found to be acceptable based on POV vs genre?

Young adult and literary novels are predominantly written in first.

Sci-fi and thrillers are predominantly written in third.

There are books that defy this trend, yes. Generally speaking, though, if you're aiming to write in a specific genre, it would behoove you to read up on what POV is most acceptable to publishers in that genre.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Young adult and literary novels are predominantly written in first.

Sci-fi and thrillers are predominantly written in third.

There are books that defy this trend, yes. Generally speaking, though, if you're aiming to write in a specific genre, it would behoove you to read up on what POV is most acceptable to publishers in that genre.

Maybe you then need reconsider the word choice "acceptable". Both POVs are "acceptable" everywhere. Saying that most of ANY type of fiction is more common in third is patently obvious. I don't follow current trends in YA (in my 'kid' days reading YA, it was almost all third), but I do follow a couple of YA writers who once asked me to review their work, and they both write in third, so that's interesting.
 
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luckyscars

WF Veterans
I disagree this is a genre thing. Perhaps it was once but there are scores of examples of first and third person used in just about any genre. At most, it's a correlation.

Instead, I find it's a voice thing. How do you want the story to sound?

I've actually been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I have two novels, both similar genre, both involving a single POV (pretty much) and both dealing with quite 'intimate' subject matter of a similar profile of protagonist. Both stories involve the characters internal psyche and attempt to be close to the point of the narrative being unreliable. Yet, one I chose to write third person and the other first person.

I can't really say why, except that was what worked. In hindsight, I believe it had everything to do with the voice. Despite both stories' POV's being pretty intimate, one of them deals with the character in a more objective sense, less of a 'dear diary' feel and more of a voyeuristic, 'laboratory rat' manner.

It's voice, basically. You do what feels right. If you're not sure, it never hurts to experiment with both.

You will probably figure out within a couple paragraph which feels more comfortable.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
Depending on your aim. If you want broader take on storytelling, third person ain't gonna go wrong. If you want a narrower, personal-level kind of storytelling, go with first person.

First person can be harder due to its limitation, but doesn't mean you can't be creative with it. When the narrator bitches and moans all the time, that already speaks a lot of the character, for example. :p

I'm male too and I write first-person story with female protagonist. I don't think and behave like women, that's for sure. So what? Research comes to play and (for me) that is by observing female relatives and friends - and people. I know basic characteristics of women and how backgrounds may affect a person to build my own fictional female character.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I think you've answered your question -- you love writing in first person. It's a long slog to write a book that doesn't interest you. And you will probably do better with something you like, and it's a sign that first person is a good choice.

My usual advice is to ask how much of the story is in your character's head. But I had a scene where the first half worked best only in third person and the second half only in first person. So it's a serious choice, in what you can say and do and accomplish. But you can flip perspectives or write snippets in another perspective, so it's not an irrevocable choice.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
I think you've answered your question -- you love writing in first person. It's a long slog to write a book that doesn't interest you. And you will probably do better with something you like, and it's a sign that first person is a good choice.

My usual advice is to ask how much of the story is in your character's head. But I had a scene where the first half worked best only in third person and the second half only in first person. So it's a serious choice, in what you can say and do and accomplish. But you can flip perspectives or write snippets in another perspective, so it's not an irrevocable choice.

In Heinlein's Number of the Beast, the narrative is in first person, but there are four narrators. Each chapter starts with a different first person narrator. It was an experiment he'd been considering for 20 or more years. It worked. The chapter titles identify the narrator for that chapter.

In Zelazny's Amber series, which I read last summer as research for my WIP in first person, there are also, in a way, multiple first person narrators, except Zelazny has other narrators telling their story to the MC narrator in extended dialogue. Refreshing myself on exactly how he did that was the point of my research. I'm doing it a slightly different way, by having my first person narrator "narrate" what has been told to him "off camera"--or he witnesses remotely--so that he becomes a third person narrator.

Where there is a will, there is a way! :)
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
It's hardly an experiment or a challenge. People have been writing books that way for centuries, it's extremely common. Bronte did it, Faulkner did it, Dickens did it, Virginia Woolf did it. Even Plato did it.
 

InTheThirdPerson

Senior Member
How complicated is your story? How dependent is it on the main character? If your main character drives the majority of the action, then getting away with first person is a lot easier. If your plot is complicated and requires a lot of players, then trying to maintain first person might necessitate a lot of sluggish / boring exposition to bring the main character up to speed -- thus making third person more elegant.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I have a theory that, all else being equal, third person is a little harder to make 'stand out' because it's such a comparatively 'safe' POV.

Writing in third person is more distant than writing in first person. Because of that, it requires slightly less investment in characterization because in third person you do not need to adopt the voice of the character you are writing about.

Consider that if you're a man in your thirties in the year 2020 writing about a woman in her fifties in the year 1950 all you need to do to accomplish the character is to write about her. You do not need to write as her.

That isn't to devalue the importance of understanding characters in any POV -- that is always important -- only that the degree of internalizing the character is different. Putting yourself into a character's shoes in a manner that is convincing can be the hardest part about writing and it's obviously far more important to do that if the character is *you* (first person) rather than somebody that *you* are observing as a narrator (third person).

When writing in first person, not only to you have to write a detailed account of the scene but you also have to do it through the limited perspective of the character you are portraying. You are no longer just a director but also an actor. There are some aspects that this makes easier -- it's easier to incorporate the character's inner psyche and motivations in first person, for example -- but it's also a far more ambitious endeavor that, when it works, I think is generally (all else being equal) more impressive and impactful than third person.

Ultimately I think (all else being equal) most readers slightly prefer first person, because it tends to be a more natural, more human way to tell an intimate story. If we consider the kind of stories people tell in day to day life it's more common that they will be in first person (grandpa's war stories, your parents telling you about their childhood, a friend telling you about some crazy shit they did at the weekend) than third person, which often comes across scant on depth and more gossipy (you'll never guess what I heard Stacey did with Jeff and then Bill caught them and...)

Not to disparage or dismiss anything here. All POV's can be effective, should be equally open for use, and treated equally. Just some thoughts about what might work better sometimes...all else being equal.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I believe either choice is fine, and there's no "wrong" option. It's the execution that matters, more than the form.

Make a choice, whichever it may be. Then write the hell out of it. :encouragement:
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I love reading 1st person POV the most and it's also my favorite to write. BUT sometimes/often it is the plot and what I want to accomplish with the book that dictates it.
1st person can also enhance what you want to accomplish. It can be more entertaining (if it's not then whoever is writing has no business writing 1st person, imo) and it can also give a limited view of what is going on. In mysteries that can enhance the suspense because it means for sure you don't understand everything going on around you. There are times with to make a story work you HAVE to do first person. Like Daphne du Murier's Rebecca.

However, often what you want to accomplish is better handled through 3rd person limited POV. It means that there is one character to help the reader focus and "go along for the ride" like Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series.... BUT it also gives you freedom to describe e things not just in the characters line of view. Sometimes in a plot first person can paint you into a corner that you didn't want to be in.

If you know what you want to accomplish with the book you can figure it out a bit better.
This is just all IMHO.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
As a reader, I barely tolerate first person POV if it's past tense, and dislike present tense.
I can't stand omni - I've set aside and never finished some works by authors I've liked because I couldn't tolerate the head hopping.

As a reader and a writer I prefer close third person past tense.

Aside from that - I would think how the story comes to you would determine whether you write it in first or third person.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
So I've struggled greatly with deciding upon whether to write my heroine's story from First-Person Point-of-View or Third-Person Point-Of-View. How do I determine which route to go? I've been doing a little bit of both. I love being inside her head and writing what she thinks, how she sees the world; maybe my only fear is because I'm a male author that I don't think like a female? I guess it always comes down to what's the difference between a male brain and a female brain? Maybe there's no difference at all. Does she view her male friends differently than her female friends? Lots of questions to answer, lots dealing with First-Person POV. Any pointers, let me know!
If you're not confident about writing in a woman's voice, choose third person. But, if you're going to be delving into her thoughts frequently, go 1st. Just know, the entire story will be comprised of her thoughts if you go 1st.
 
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