Writing Perspectives – First Person or Third Person?

When I start writing a new story, one of the things I have to figure out is whether I want to write it in first or third person.  Usually it’s third person, but on occasion it’s first person.  I’ve also done a couple stories with multiple POVs and I’ve done first and third interchangeably with those stories.

I’ve also seen other people struggling to figure out whether or not their stories should be first or third person.  I’ve also seen people criticize certain POVs because they just don’t like them.  I started thinking about the purpose of different POVs on an analytical level and so I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject.

Choosing what perspective you’re writing from might seem as simple as just “well do I want to write through the eyes of the main character or do I want to see everything and not be set to one specific person?”  But there are other things to consider when choosing which perspective you’re going with, along with who the POV character really is.

First Person POV – The character is the narrator of the story, you are seeing and experiencing everything through their eyes, and all the prose is essentially an internal monologue.  Writing in this perspective can be rather limiting as you can only relay information that that specific character would know about.  Because of this, you can also run the risk of having an unreliable narrator, depending on the character.  If you’re going to write in this perspective, it would probably be best if the story is heavily character-driven, or at the very least driven by the main character’s own wants and motivations rather than by a plot coming and dragging them off to make the story happen.  It’s also essential that the POV character here has a unique, strong voice, as we are being subjected to them monologing throughout the whole story and we wouldn’t want them to be bland and boring and run of the mill if that were the case.

Third Person POV – When the story pulls back and we can see a sense of everything going on, not being locked into one specific character’s head space.  There are several different ways you can do third person.  You can still focus on just one character in third person so we’re still being limited to what they see and experience (just without them being the “narrator”).  You can have an omnipotent POV in which we’re not necessarily focusing on a specific character and you get a bigger picture of what is happening.  You could have a POV be with a small group of characters and take time to focus on all of them rather than keep it focused on just one.  There are a lot of different things you can do with this.  These are probably better for more plot-driven novels and also books with large casts of characters, or books where the world building is really important (like fantasy stories where you want to see everything).

With all this I want to talk a little bit about mixing these POV’s using an example of one of my own stories in which I switch back and forth between first person and third person with two different characters.  The character I have in first person is more self-focused and mostly only cares about what’s happening to him rather than the world and people around him.  The character in third person is pretty much the exact opposite and focuses more on other people, and because of that the third person works nicely.

Choosing your POV is all about figuring out what sort of information you want to convey to your audience.  Good questions to ask when figuring out which one you want to use are: Who is this story about?  What is the subject matter of this story?  Would it be more beneficial to the story to be told from the eyes of the MC or to see the bigger picture around them?  Hopefully these questions can help you best figure out what you want to do for your story.

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