Pros And Cons: First Person vs. Third Person

Kiara decided that today would be a great day to talk about writing point of view. She knew it was a topic that beleaguered many writers, and she felt like it would be beneficial to discuss when it’s useful to use third person and when it’s better to use first.

Okay, enough of that. That was an example to show that using third person isn’t always the best choice. In blog posts, it can be unwieldy and awkward. Both first person and third person can be useful when writing, but it’s important to know when to use each of them. Let’s break down what the point of views are and the pros and cons of using them.

Pros vs cons first person third person

First-Person

Uses: I, me, my

Example: I gazed up at the clear blue sky. A couple albatrosses soared above me, their wide wingspan creating shadows that darted and whirled across the ship’s deck. I had always loved seabirds; I wanted to be as carefree and daring. 

Pros: 

  • It gives a personal feel to the story.
  • It reveals more of the narrator’s thoughts and feelings.
  • It feels like the character is talking to the reader.
  • It creates an avenue for the character’s distinctive voice and style of storytelling.

Cons:

  • It can create a narrow viewpoint.
  • It’s not a good point-of-view for characters who will not willingly tell the readers their feelings.
  • As you are seeing the story through the mind of one character, they can only guess what other characters are thinking or feeling, which can create misunderstandings as the narrator may misinterpret body language and facial expressions. (NOTE: This can be turned into a pro if it is used to advance a part of the plot).
  • Similarly to the last point, since the story is confined to the mind of one individual, you cannot give the reader information that the narrator does not already know.(NOTE: Again, this can be a positive thing if you specifically do not want the reader to know about events and facts outside of the narrator’s frame of reference).

Use It When:

  • You are writing any sort of personal narrative that is from your point-of-view (such as blogs and personal anecdotes).
  • Your character is telling the story.
  • You want the reader to see the world through one character’s eyes.
  • You want a more personal and inside look at the thoughts and feelings of your narrator.

Good Uses of First-Person: Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Rick Riordan), The Ascendance Trilogy (Jennifer A. Nielsen), Dragon Slippers (Jessica Day George), The Reckoners (Brandon Sanderson), The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)

 

Third-Person

Uses: (Character’s name), he/him/his, she/her

Example:  Cooper gazed up at the clear blue sky. A couple albatrosses soared above him, their wide wingspan creating shadows that darted and whirled across the ship’s deck. He had always loved seabirds; he wanted to be as carefree and daring. 

Pros: 

  • It can lend itself to more detailed descriptions (sometimes the first-person narrator will not be as interested in describing things to the reader).
  • It provides opportunities for several different character point-of-views within the story. (Example: Every other chapter focusing on a different character but remaining in third-person).
  • You can tell the readers things that the main character does not know or can show them events that the main character is not experiencing.
  • You can explain the character’s feelings to the reader when the character would never tell anyone.

Cons: 

  • Sometimes third-person can feel emotionally removed.
  • It can feel long-winded.
  • Since it has an unseen narrator with no specific voice (other than your own unique writing style), it can sound monotonous if not written correctly.
  • Since you, as the unseen narrator, know the feelings and motives of other characters and can reveal them to the reader, you run the risk of “head-hopping” (in other words, writing from one character’s point of view and suddenly switching to another).

Use It When: 

  • You are not writing a personal anecdote or narrative (such as when you are writing research and analytical essays).
  • You want to reveal feelings and emotions that your main character is prone to suppressing.
  • You want to include events and information that the main character is not aware of.
  • You want a broader view of your world and characters.
  • Your character is not personally telling their story.

Good Uses of Third-Person: Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling), The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), Epic Order of the Seven (Jenny L. Cote), Heroes of Olympus (Rick Riordan), The Ilyon Chronicles (Jaye L. Knight), Ranger’s Apprentice (John Flanagan)

 

But how do we know which point of view is the right one to use?

Although I included “When to Use” sections for both point of views, often times your writing won’t fall neatly into a preconceived category. The best way to discover whether to use first or third person is to try writing in both and see what sounds best. Sometimes stories can be written in either and it’s just the author’s preference. Trust your natural writerly instincts to tell you which one works.

And, y’know, if that doesn’t do anything for you, just play eeny-miney-mo to pick one.

Your turn! Which point of view is your favorite? Which one do you use the most, or do you use both equally? Do tell! 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s