The debate of third person vs. first person point of view (POV) has been around for some time. It can make things challenging when you’re trying to figure out which POV to write from, especially if you’re partway through your short story or novel and decide to switch POV.
First person POV is where the main character is telling the story through their eyes. The protagonist talks in terms of “I,” “I said,” “I went,” etc. (The blond guy in the below photo is the “I.” He acts as both protagonist, narrator, and reader.)
Third person POV allows readers to get a larger picture and to see the thoughts of multiple characters. “He,” “she,” “he said,” “she said,” etc. are used in third person. (The auburn haired girl in the following photo is the “she.” The ghost-looking guy is the narrator and reader.)
Your writing will turn out differently depending on whether you use first person or third person.
Choosing one over the other doesn’t mean your writing will be better than someone who chose differently. What makes a piece of writing good is the quality of the writing and if people are drawn into the story.
But since the first person vs. third person debate exists, let’s take a look at it and see if one POV is better than the other.
In first person, everything has to be filtered through your protagonist’s perspective. Readers can only know what the protagonist knows. Nothing more. Nothing less. This means that the protagonist’s personality directly effects how the story is told. In other words, what readers are reading is biased information.
However, first person allows for a direct connection between readers and the protagonist’s emotions and thoughts. I.e. – Divergent, The Hunger Games, etc. This is usually the reason why people who prefer first person, prefer it. Many say they feel more connected to the main character in first person.
On an interesting note, those who primarily read YA tend to prefer first person. Many state they can directly relate to the main character through first person because they consider first person more intimate than third person. Another reason is that many feel they become the main character in the story, like the story absorbs them into the plot.
Third person may not be as obviously intimate as first person, but intimacy can be created. Harry Potter wasn’t written in first person. Neither was Daughter of Smoke and Bone or The Mortal Instruments, yet readers are incredibly attached to the main characters in all those stories.
Third person isn’t claustrophobic like first person. It allows for a more objective and well-rounded point of view. Also, if you have a story told from multiple POVs, third person is usually the way to go, unless you’re very good at creating different character voices. There are a few first person, multiple perspective novels I’ve read where I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters voices. Those are usually the novels I don’t finish.
The vast majority of adult literature is written in third person.
Both types of POV have their merits. Both have their downsides. First person jumps right into the protagonist’s head, making readers feel like they’re an integral part of the story. But first person is severely limited. You’re stuck in the protagonist’s mind, and so, if readers don’t like the main character, they won’t read the story. In first person, you don’t get the whole picture.
Third person has a lot more flexibility. You can choose to take on a more omniscient role or simply keep the protagonist’s thoughts slightly hidden.
Think about it this way. In third person, the reader sees reality, while the character’s reaction is slightly hidden. This doesn’t mean the character is an emotionless automaton. It means that the character’s emotions aren’t so blatant readers are unable to use their internal empathy and reading skills to infer a character’s emotions, motivations, etc.
Writing in third person doesn’t mean you can’t show a character’s emotions or thoughts. It’s more about leaving some distance between the outside world and the inside one, giving readers a chance to deduce what’s going on inside a character…and know that the world they’re seeing isn’t greatly skewed by a character’s emotions.
For instance, if the protagonist has a massive crush (I’m talking major infatuation) on another person (think Twilight, Obsidian, etc.) the protagonist’s entire world is going to circulate around that one individual. In reality, the world isn’t circling that one person, but to the protagonist it is.
In first person, all readers see is how the world revolves around that one individual. Readers don’t know any better because the protagonist doesn’t know any better.
In third person, readers know the world doesn’t revolve around that one person. They’re conscious of how skewed the protagonist’s view of the world is.
An elementary way to compare first and third person POV is by thinking of them in terms of opposites. In first person, the inside is readily shown on the outside, thus coloring the entire world in a blanket of the protagonist’s emotions. In third person, the outside world is seen, while a little bit of the inside is kept inside.
Personally? I don’t have a preference, though I do think it depends on the story. Some stories are better written in third person, while others are better written in first person.
Bottom line: If the story keeps my interest, I’ll read it regardless of what POV it’s written in. (Though I will admit when first person POV started gaining popularity, I wasn’t all that thrilled. It took some time to adjust from third person to first person. Now, if the story is good, I tend to forget if I’m reading first or third person.)
What do you think? Do you have a preference for third or first person POV?
(Photos courtesy of writingxmu: http://bit.ly/1KDFfkS)