1. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    POV Choices.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Milady, Feb 29, 2008.

    To make a long story short, my question is, What's the difference between writing third- and first-person?

    Okay, okay, I'm not a noob. I've been through seventh-grade English, and I know all about the "I"'s and "We"'s, "He"s and "she"s. I mean to take this question from an author or writer's standpoint.

    So, which POV do you prefer to work with? Why? Which, in your opinion, makes a story "better", or more reader-friendly?

    I can write in both, but I prefer first person for some reason. It's easier to put myself in the place of the character, and it's a great way to do character development.

    Unfortunately, it's easy for your character to become little more than a self-insert for your vicarious pleasures. It's also easy to just develop your viewpoint character and neglect the other, equally interesting ones. As in all writing, it's a difficult balance.

    So, what about you?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I prefer third person most of the time. With a first person POV, you are limited to one character's perception of events, unless you switch narrators at some point, which I consider very distracting. With third person, you can present differing viewpoints in an unbiased way, or more accurately biased to the needs and values of the character currewntly in focus.

    An other advantage is the possibility of suspense. Alfred Hitchcock has discussed the nature of suspense in terms of information hidden from a character but known to the audience. For example, a bomb ticking away under a table generates no suspense if the character knows about it. Neither does it generate suspense if neither the character nor the audience knows about it. But if the audience knows about it while the character goes about his business in the room, you have created suspense.

    The form of third person narrative in which you switch viewpoints is third person omniscient. A variation, third person limited omniscient, limits the narration to what a single character can perceive and think. The sentence structure is like third person omniscient, which is a very comfortable and familiar form to read, and it still has the same intimate knowledge of that person's thoughts as you can develop with first person. However, if you need to jump to someone else's viewpoint for a time, you can do so with far less disruption than you can from first person.

    Without omniscience, you can keep the characters thoughts sequestered, so the reader only guesses what each character really thinks from his or her actions. I like this style, because it encourages more showing than telling, but it doesn't work well if you need to reveal dreams or trains of thought in some detail.

    First person can be effective if you are concentrating heavily on the principal character's inner conflicts, but I doubt I would be very tempted to use it for anything more than a short story.
     
  3. Milady
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    Milady Contributing Member

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    Sage advice, there, Cogito. I understand the many pros of third person, but I can't write it well. I think I read too much first-person.

    The main problem I have writing third-person is that I focus on one character so much that I tend to make it indistinguishable from first, or I have so many characters that I can't keep them all in check. I guess I use first as my crutch.

    Most of my stories tend to involve just one person that's at the heart of all the conflicts, so it sort of works...


    Huh. I wish I could write third person well.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sounds like you just need to do more reading of the best writing by the best writers [not always the most popular], to see how they do it... constant reading is a requisite for learning how to write...
     
  5. Bluemouth
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    Bluemouth Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you can't write third person, then the story becomes noticeably stagnant. At times I've come across this, so lately I've been avoiding third person altogether.

    Both styles have the potential to be very addictive, but I've found authors writing in the third person bloat out everything to a point where it becomes boring. This can occasionally be seen with first person, but I find reading from a character's perspective more engaging. Every word, in fact, is actually a piece of characterisation.

    If your story is going to contain action from various perspectives, the obvious choice is third person. But if you want to follow a single person and allow the reader to understand them, I'd go with first person.

    If you want an example of a very good novel written in first person, then check out The Beach by Alex Garland.
     
  6. Montag
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    Montag Senior Member

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    I'm fairly decent at writing both, but I don't particularly like reading first-person.

    I find it easy to stall in first person writing, so with something that will end up being fairly long, I generally go with third.
     
  7. Torana
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    Torana Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am only good at first person. Not so good a third.
     
  8. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I've never been able to make first person work for me. I seldom read first person work, though; it has to be from a writer that I trust will sweep me into the story despite my irritation at the form.
     
  9. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I do both, depending on how I want to describe the story. Every story has its own aura and style, and in order to bring that out properly I wander in between different experiments. However, it is a known opinion that first person is effectual when the views and ideas of the person are more important than anything, while the third person works well in all other situations. Where second person is hardly used.

    My opinion would be: whatever suits you. I find both styles, both pleasant and unpleasant at times. Since my characters are a part of me, it's like a activating a chunk of my head when I write about them. It depends upon the emotions they activate in me when I think of them. Do they make me giddy, or serious? Rude, or loving? And so, it drafts out the style I'll adopt.
     
  10. codyco
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    codyco Member

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    I prefer to write in first person most of the time, I think that if you are writing something that takes place over a large geographic area (such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy) I would use 3rd person just to incoporate more people's opinions.
     
  11. Mr Sci Fi
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    Mr Sci Fi Senior Member

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    I think the reason people write first person - and I'm going to be frank - is because they think it's somehow "easier" than third. I see this a lot with new writers who write in first person. I'll read a story that should have been written in third, and I'll ask, "Why was this in first?"

    It's unusual because the only discernable difference between first and third is the use of "I." First person is supposed to be very personal, yet I see all the time first person writing as if it were an ambiguous narrator, i.e., "I walked here," "I saw this." There's no sense of character in these narrations. No internal insight. Just a relay of events that could have just been conveyed through a third-person narrator.

    I find first person to be an extremely difficult form of writing. I think the industry is a little biased against it, too.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    couldn't have said it better!
     
  13. zconstantine
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    zconstantine New Member

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    It is very common to see first-person narratives as an element of third-person narratives - i.e. when a character describes what just happened to him or her - though I would wager that it would be hard to find an example of a third-person narrative appearing within a first-person narrative (unless the main character happens to be reading a book).

    First-person narratives lend themselves very poorly to movie scripts (as compared to third-person narratives), which may explain the relative scarcity of mainstream first-person literature.

    Third-person is inarguably more difficult to write, if taken to its logical conclusion - rather than being an individual experiencing the imagined elements of one's story, one must fully visualize the world in which one's imagined story takes place.

    If you are looking to transition from first-person to third-person narrative (or just for the sake of a fun thought experiment), try sitting in a busy public place for a few minutes and taking a mental snapshot of the people surrounding you.

    In a first-person narrative, the most you could hope to accomplish would be a description of each person and perhaps a conversation; comparatively, a third-person narrative allows you to pen in everything that happened to each person in this crowded setting, perhaps even their life stories (if you feel so inclined).
     
  14. Montag
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    Montag Senior Member

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    Cuckoos nest is a good example of that, when I read it I tend to forget its first-person.
     

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