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  1. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    Controversial POV - First vs Third Person

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by hoodwinked, Jul 30, 2009.

    "It is often said, mainly by non-writers, that the first-person point of view (the 'I' point of view, as in 'then I saw the jug') is the most natural. This is doubtful. The third-person point of view ('Then she saw the jug') is more common in both folk and sophisticated narrative. No fairy tales are told in the first person; also no jokes. First person allows the writer to write as he talks, and this may be an advantage for intelligent people who have interesting speech patterns and come from a culture with a highly developed oral tradition, such as American blacks, Jews, and southern or down-east Yankee yarn-spinners; but first person does not force the writer to recognize that written speech has to make up for the loss of facial expression, gesture, and the like, and the usual result is not good writing but only writing less noticeably bad." -- John Gardner, The Art of Fiction (My writing Bible)

    Your thoughts? Comments? Beliefs?

    I hope I didn't violate any copyrights here!
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In the hands of a great writer, first person can be a good choice for a POV. Granted, a lot of new writers do tend to experiment with first person. Although it may seem unnatural in the hands of an amateur (or even a good writer in some cases), lots of writers have used it successfully, so this passage shouldn't stop anyone from at least trying to write in first person. I have to go, but I will add more later.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I basically agree. There IS a place for first person, but it requires much more skill to do well.

    Every story that can be told in first person can be told very effectively in third person, but the converse is not true.

    The first person voice is very limited, Handing the story off to any other POV is problematic Third person can be as intinate, but with the advantage that you CAN take brief (or extended) excursions seamlesslly to another POV if needed. Although you CAN switch from one first person POV to another in the same story, it's a more profound change in the writing, so it is ill-advised to try to manage more than a couple POVs in a first person story.

    There IS a different feel to a first person story, and that difference is the main reason for even considering a first person voice.

    I would vehemently urge any writer to master storytelling in third person before considering any major project in first person.
     
  4. Elistara
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    Elistara Member

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    It depends on the story. Some stories would just not be the same written in third person as in first. Personally, I feel first person can give more expression to a novel, if it is done well. But who to say what is done well, and what isn't? There are some great writers out there who wrote their first novel in first person, I am sure. Meaning, I seem to remember reading that somewhere, yet I cannot currently quote any of them to back myself up. :)
    But there are so many books on the market today - why not? How could there not be? You never know how good a writer you are until you write something, and then who is to say it is good? Would you write to have others judge your work, and rely on that? Or do you write for yourself, and enjoy your own stories?
    Personal preference, imho. I am writing in first person, having never written in third, but I feel my story needs it. Putting it into third person wouldn't portray the same 'feeling'.. the same emotion I am trying to get across, and it's a fun read, if I do say so myself. And thus far, I write for myself, and have fun doing it, so am not worried about what the publishers might think. I will worry about that later, when the time comes. But I know what I like, and I have read books in first and third - they can both be done well.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I've never ever understood the bias against first person, having read countless amazing novels written in it. There is a huge, huge difference between any writing (in context) in 1st and 3rd person and neither has any claim to being "the best" way to write. The notion that first-person will always be inferior to third is obviously misguided.

    The limits of first person (cannot move outside the narrator, cannot describe what the narrator doesn't know) need only apply if you as a writer insist on rigid realism. There are many successful authors whose first-person narrations move beyond the limitations of the embodied narrator, and most of the time the reader will not hesitate to follow.

    I guess I can see why some people would be against it. But it would be like a painter not using a particular colour. Its entirely possible to write your whole life without using first person, but why would you deliberately throw away one of your tools?

    That said, I guess I have a few conditions. A first person novel should never, ever even remotely resemble a diary, changing MC should only be done in extreme cases, and only if there is a genuine need (which there rarely is, even in third person) and the fact that the narrative is delivered "in voice" is not exploited to get away with poor grammar, spelling, etc.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First person tends to seduce you to tell rather than show. Third person is orienbted toward an external POV, so you are more likely to show the observations that show feelings, moods, etc rather than slipping into a habit of telling.
     
  7. Crave
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    I prefer third person simply because I feel like I'm missing out on something otherwise.
     
  8. Elistara
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    Elistara Member

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    It's the authors job to make sure you don't miss out on anything even in first person. If you miss out on vital story elements, then it isn't a complete story.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree with arron89 that first person is in no way inferior to third person. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, first person is better in showing thoughts and emotions. Of course, one can also do that with third person, but it's harder to weave that into the narrative without losing pace and/or flow.
     
  10. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    In first person, like Cognito said, in first person we tend to tell more than show, and I think in first-person, it also tends to feel more acceptable. But that's the thing, isn't it? Writing less noticeably bad.

    Not in any way is first-person better at showing emotions than third. Not better, though maybe easier, because the person who says "I" can just tell us his emotions, amid all the action that's going on: "I felt scared. More scared than I had ever felt in all my life. But I knew I had to go out there." Whereas in third, the author would need to write something like, "Bob could hear the clash of swords somewhere near, and he stared at his own sword laying at his feet. Heart racing, he stooped and picked up the sword, and in the blade he saw his reflection, pale and covered with fear." Horrible examples, but hopefully you can see what I mean.
     
  11. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Telling isn't necessarily inferior to showing, either. They work best if you use both. They are just different styles that attract a different audience. If you tell someone something that is complex, they'll probably thank you for it. If you show them a load of rubbish, they'll shut the book.

    And you don't have to tell if you right in first person, just as you don't have to show if you write in third. That entire argument is irrelevant.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, telling is not inherently inferior to showing, but telling IS weaker when it comes to the complexities of feelings/emotion/mood etc. These are the areas that first person encourages sloppiness in if you aren't adept at avoiding that trap.

    Show and Tell
    What's Your Point (of View)?
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have a rather unpretty theory as to this whole 1st vs 3rd person POV conversation. I think it has its roots in a concept called theory of mind.

    The first person (actual, not grammatical) who we know is the self, the I. The second person we know (actual, not grammatical) is the mommy/daddy or the You. Then only later are we introduced to other people, the He/She/They. Is it any wonder that grammatically we list the persons in this same order.

    I have noticed a tendency so strong as to almost exhibit the qualities of a rule that young/new writers want to start in the first person thinking that somehow this will be easier, more immediate, more captivating. They have to be talked into believing that there are benefits to the third person POV, regardless of the evidence that nearly every novel published is in 3rd person. I feel that our arguments on the subject are really just a description of a dynamic. Nothing more.
     
  14. hoodwinked
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    Showing can conjure a more clear and concise mental image than telling can, in many cases.

    I do not believe first-person is inferior to third. I believe there can be equally masterful pieces in both. There can be equally trashy pieces in both, also.

    But, I believe first-person with beginning writers is more harder to write. Telling, rather than showing, can lean more towards sentimentality rather than vivid imagery.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In a way, it is probably easier to write. It seems to come more naturally to many novice writers, because they naturally identify with their main character. But it IS harder to do well.
     
  16. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    There is such a thing as good first person, but, as has already been stated, it is very difficult to accomplish. My problem with most first person fiction, with the exception of the really good stuff, is the narration feels so intrusive, or maybe more like a barrier between me and the story. The 'I' keeps me from being swept into the story.

    Your mileage, as usual, may vary.
     
  17. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    While I generally agree with your views here, I don't think this is quite true. I'd say nearly every story. . . Not sure if you've ever read any of the Dexter novels, but they would have been awfully flat in third person. Charm was the recipe for success there, and I don't think the author could achieve the same effect in third. . At the least, it would require a different strategy, which would fundamentally change the entire thing.

    For example, Dexter constantly refers to himself in third person. If you switch this entirely to third, you inevitably lose a certain something in the narrative voice, which is really the heart and soul of the piece in the first place, especially since it is primarily through Dexter's own voice that we get to see his 'personality'.

    Quotes from “Dexter in the Dark,” Jeff Lindsay:
    I just don't see it in third.:cool: lol
     
  18. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interestingly, though, despite being the most common form of folk storytelling today, jokes are never told in past-tense.
     
  19. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    Could you give me an example of common folk storytelling? I'm not doubting you, don't think that; I'm just curious.
     
  20. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Somehow the present-tense is popular in hypothesis, propositions, jokes and other things, we generally want to assume has not actually happened. Perhaps past-tense is easilier accepted as real or truth?
     
  21. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I said that jokes are the most common form of folk storytelling nowadays. You don't have people gathered round a campfire telling the tales of the great mythical heroes and villains of their heritage, but you do have lots of people standing around water coolers going "Three midgets walk into a bar..."
    Yeah, I guess maybe it's cuz if I say "Three midgets walked into a bar," it's kinda like starting out like it's a lie? Kinda? I'm saying something happened even though it didn't. Whereas when I open with present-tense it's obvious I'm describing a completely theoretical bar with three completely theoretical midgets. The time it takes for the audience to suspend disbelief is saved, so they can focus on the hilarious punchline.
     
  22. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    Ack. I misunderstood you. I thought you meant first-person was the most common form of modern folk storytelling. And I was imagining some sort of book titled, "Modern Folk Tales".
     
  23. mistressoftheflies
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    All I can say is kudos to anyone who writes well in first person. I certainly don't, and believe me, I've tried. It seems that the market (especially YA) is saturated with first person POV so I get a little giddy when I see novels in third. ;)
     
  24. Lijde
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    I write...decently in both POVs.

    It's second person that gets me. .-.
    I feel like I'm writing a freaking commercial when I write like that.
     
  25. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Second person is the worst POV to write in, especially for something as large as a novel. It makes too many assumptions about the reader. I have, however, seen it used in smaller pieces quite effectively.
     

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