1. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    First Person vs. Third Person - what do you prefer?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fronzizzle, Mar 15, 2014.

    Hello all,

    I'm in the beginning stages of my next work, something I have planned to write for quite a long time. In my mind, it was always done first-person as there are very few characters and I think the subject lends itself to a first-person account.

    However, after actually sitting down now and starting to write it, I'm having second thoughts. Though I have pretty much the entire story in my head, I'm having a hard time getting it down on paper and what I do write sounds...well, sounds too much like me, if that makes sense. I feel like I'm talking instead of the character and even though I'm only a few pages in, I feel like it's quite muddled and already going off track a little.

    I've tried to think back on some first-person books I've read, and I can't really think of many that I enjoyed. That's not to say they don't exist, but I seem to gravitate towards third-person works. Is this normal? Do most people prefer to read third-person, or does it entirely depend on the work itself?

    I'm also wondering if its worth "forcing" myself to write it in first-person. Part of me feels like if I could learn to do it, the end result would be better but I also feel like I could move forward with the story I want in third-person. Any advice?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Most works are written in third person, which is probably why you prefer it over first person. My advice would be to read more good books written in first person.

    Also, what makes you think writing in first person would make your work better?
     
  3. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I suppose it depends on what books you've read. I've read tons in the first person that I enjoyed very much: Moby Dick, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, Villette, Wuthering Heights, Huckleberry Finn, Gulliver's Travels, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Heart of Darkness, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Woman in White, The Great Gatsby, North and South (Gaskell), The Book Thief, Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe detective series, all of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series, Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer series -- no end of fine novels in the first person.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2014
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't usually like working in first person because it limits the style I can use - I have to adopt the style of the character, and he might be more limited than I am in terms of vocabulary, sentence structure, etc. (Most of my characters aren't Humbert Humberts.) Also, I can't move outside the character's head to talk about what might be happening in another location.

    I also see little advantage in writing in first person unless the voice of the character is very distinctive and important to the impact of the story - think of Huckleberry Finn or Alex from A Clockwork Orange. Obviously, in cases like those, first person is a must.

    But I stick to third person for the most part, and am happy doing so.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This is another perennial thread topic that might need to be stickied.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel that third person gives you far more flexibility, and that many of the advantages claimed for first person can be achieved in third person. So unless there's a specific clear reason to go with first person, I'd say go with third. First person can be done well, but I think that it's harder to do than third person done well.
     
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  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree. There should be a FAQ that talks about POV and tenses and all that good stuff.
     
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  8. Fizpok
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    Fizpok Member

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    Also, do not forget the first person/third person in present time, which is good for scripts and for epic sort of writings. Also, there is a second person ("you are") that I saw in stories like Bradberry's "Thunder"...
     
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  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    Is this normal?

    ...yes...

    Do most people prefer to read third-person,

    ...yes...

    or does it entirely depend on the work itself?

    ...also yes... but comparatively few adult narket novels are written in first...

    ...i can't think of any good reason why you'd have to 'force yourself' to learn how to write in first, unless you want to write a 'noir' genre mystery a la chandler and hammett, in which first can work well...
     
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  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I can write either, and which one is one of the key decisions I make before beginning to write.

    Both first and third can be equally intimate. Both allow you to dwell in the head of the main character, not that that is necessarily a good thing. Technically, you can switch POVs from character to character in first person, but it's more intrusive when you do than in third person.

    So essentially, first person is more restricted. If you truly embrace first person, you completely limit the reader's awareness to what the first person narrator knows at that point in time. And that is the immersive experience you might choose first person for. It's a tempting choice, but don't overlook the limitations that first person imposes to offer that experience.

    In truth, even that experience can be produced in third person, but there's a subtle psychological enhancement to using first person for that purpose. But it only really works if you stick to the rules, and don't step out of character.

    As for the dangers of first person, chief among those, at least for new writers, is to focus on the narrator and his or her thoughts and perceptions. YA fiction is particularly villified for yielding to that temptation. The solution is to "write outward, not inward." Avoid "I saw" or "I noticed," and keep a tight rein on the emoting. Instead, describe what the narrator perceives, not the fact that he or she perceives it. We already know who perceived it BECAUSE it is first person.

    Example, instead of:
    write:
    No need to mention the feeling. The fact that the narrator even noticed it enough to write it is sufficient. And noticed how the "I"s disappeared!

    My recommendation, therefore, is to stick to third person unless you fully understand what you are up against in first person.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I find myself using either or depending on the story. I don't lock myself into a certain pov or tense. When I think of an idea, I think most of how I'd like to tell it. For the sci-fi contest I wanted to tell a story about an abused robot but from his pov so I used 1st instead of 3rd.

    Like Cogito said ( and with good examples ) 1st has a lot of filter words that can go unnoticed by a writer. They create a wedge however between the reader and the character. It jars the reader out of the skin of the character. No longer seeing what the character sees but suddenly seeing only the character seeing.
     
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  12. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I much prefer first person. Being the main character helps me get into the storytelling.
     
  13. KJ Palmer
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    KJ Palmer New Member

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    My works are written in first person. Staying "in character" while writing was a challenge at first, primarily because I have authored my works in a pirate vernacular. I enjoy how writing a line such as "Me hearties went a'sea at dawn" opposed to "My hearties set sail at dawn" lends an intimacy to the soul and mindset of the narrator.

    I agree with those here who mentioned the limitations of what the storyteller sees. In my case the narrator is at the forefront of the action which provides a seamless read.
     
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  14. Jake_Borrett
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    Jake_Borrett New Member

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    Although I do write in both styles I personally prefer first person. It allows me to connect with my characters by understanding their inner voice, feelings, fears and desires. Plus you can easily create an unreliable narrator which are often very fun to write.
     
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  15. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Third person omniscient mostly. I write action adventures and first person is much too restrictive in dealing with complex plot and battles.
     
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  16. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I prefer writing in third person because I like writing more than one POV. It would be too confusing for the reader if the next chapter had a different POV, but was in first person.
     
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  17. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Depends on how you do it. In The Swan Thieves, Elizabeth Kostova presents three different POVs in 1st person, heading each chapter with the name of the character whose POV is represented. However, to do this I think you need to make sure that the "voice" of each character is sufficiently different from the others.

    I like to use 1st person when I want, to some extent, an unreliable narrator, or, as in my current project, when I want the narrator to be a character in the story (but not the main character). A lot of novice writers hold the belief that 1st person gives the reader more intimacy with the character or the action, but this is a fallacy. The same effect can be had with 3rd person limited.
     
  18. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    Thanks for all the replies. For some reason, I didn't get my email notifications that people had responded or I would have been back sooner!

    Without bogging down the discussion too much with details, my story was going to be about a man who was keeping a journal about how him and his wife were dealing with a global crisis that kept getting worse and worse. In my mind, each chapter would be him recapping the day; I thought it'd be more powerful if I wrote it from a first-person perspective.

    However, after re-reading my first few pages I also decided I didn't like the "recap" style as everything was either in the past, or in the future. I rewrote a few pages from a present-tense, third-person perspective and it seemed to flow much, much better. At some point, I will definitely tackle writing something in first-person, but for now I think I'm changing my current story to third-person.
     
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  19. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    I like the point of view where I get to stay in the protagonist's head for most of the novel. I think it's called "Deep POV."
     
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  20. Inkwell1
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    Inkwell1 Active Member

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    I prefer writing in first person, but everyone has different opinions.
     
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  21. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    Both have your advantages and disavantages

    First person allows for instant access to a character's thoughts, actions, feelings, and views on what's happening, plus the narration has personality. However you have no access to other characters in that way and events unseen by them are a bit hard to do.

    Third person is pretty much the opposite, giving vision on everyone and you can view everyone's thoughts, actions, feelings, and views on what's happening at any moment. It's just the narration could lack personality due to it not being a person. Which could be slightly less entertaining.

    Since I'm working on a super(anti)hero team series, third person is best to catch everyone and paint the action nicely enough
     
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  22. Moneica
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    Moneica Member

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    Well I found out I write in the 1st person :D. I get confused if I try and do anything different.
     
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  23. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    I like first person.. it's simple, easy and a lot easier to follow along. My favorite thing about reading a book in first person, is I feel like I'm the main star/character. I'm doing these things or experiencing this world, it makes the book feel more realistic and the events occurring in real time.
     
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  24. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    First person is superior because it makes the reader feel like they are going on the amazing adventures you describe and not some random person.
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's interesting. I never thought of it this way, but of course you're right about the unreliablity of the narrator.

    In the "I" mode, you only "see" what you yourself would see. This makes you just as prone to error in character mode, as you would be as a real person.

    In third person, the author always has a slant on things. Even if the author is only describing what a particular character thinks, feels and sees, there will still be that distance and word choice that gives hints about reliability.

    I've never written serious fiction in first person. I think it would be fun to try.
     
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