Should I Write in the 1st or 3rd Person?

Hey, I’ve written in both. Both ways have distinct advantages, and both have distinct disadvantages. I’m going to state my opinion first and foremost: I have come to despise 1st-person storytelling. It seems to me like a “cheating” way and is therefore used by only inexperienced writers. But quite a few first-person novels or hailed as classics: Dracula, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe. Still, I do not reconsider: 1st-person novels bug me.

However, I will not conceal from you that 1st-person novels do indeed have a place in writing. Heaven forbid that I would ban this writing style, or, even worse, discourage you from writing in it. That’s not my intention. My honest opinion up there was just an opinion, and if you want to narrate your story from the first person, good on ya.

One of the great benefits of writing in the first person is that it is indisputably easier. It’s like playing a role: you adopt the knowledge, demeanor, and mannerisms of the character who is narrating, and speak through them. When you write from the third person, you have to imply that this was what the character was thinking without necessarily telling the reader that. The reader has to do a little logical implication. With first person, the main character is literally telling the reader what they think or thought.

However, this same thing can be used as a downside: S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G everything out for your reader can lead to monotony. Since this character, in time, will adopt well-known ways of thinking, the reader will grow bored and start to predict the character’s actions. Also, it doesn’t leave much room for mysteriousness. The character who is narrating will not have an abundant ability to hide things about himself or herself from the reader. Such things get old quickly.

However, if you make an effort to keep the narrator’s thoughts from the reader, it’s possible. Try quick, short hints and subject changes. Hint about the narrator’s past and then quickly change the subject. Quarter off portions of his/her mind so that they actually don’t think about those things. Muddy the waters of “Did this happen or didn’t it?” Don’t draw straight lines about the narrators past until they wish to reveal it.

Also, many writers who write in the first person forget to add more than one perspective. This limits the reader to only what the hero (or whoever is narrating) sees. This may work in Sherlock Holmes, but you’re no A. Conan Doyle. Besides, Watson (who is the narrator) gets the whole story from Holmes’ view in the end. Such a storytelling technique is difficult to pull off, but be prepared to be able to tell more than one story in a first-person story.

Usually, however, I favor 3rd-person stories. They avoid pitfalls that happen to most 1st-person stories, and it’s the main style used by writers of our day. If I wrote in 1st person all the time, I’d miss all of the little narrator-type sentences I could put in like “It was a foolish decision” and writing “Silvia said” or “Bob said” or “Richard said” all the freaking time. It’s just my style.

However, if you like writing 3-person stories, I’d advise against comments like “I wouldn’t have done the same if I were him” or such. We call this breaking the fourth wall, and, in my opinion, it sounds pompous and patronizing. Just tell the story, and don’t talk to the reader. It easily comes off as being annoying.

If you are undecided as to which one to use, I have a suggestion: choose 1st-person if you want to tell a more personal story, and use 3rd-person if you want to use a more general story. The smaller your cast, the better a first-person standpoint would work. The bigger your cast, the better a 3rd-person cast would work.

One final word: If you like both, you might consider going with both. The main character narrates from his perspective, but when he’s indisposed, sleeping, drugged, or dead, you could temporarily switch to a 3rd-person standpoint. The western novel writer, Louis La’mour, tried this trick in his writing. Any of these styles work, just be sure to handle them right.

Creation Challenge: Think of one of your stories that is in the third person. Imagine for a moment that that story was in the first person. Who would be the narrator? Why? Would the plot be any different because of it? Would they use a dialect or different word choice?

Good luck, and happy writing!

P.S. Just don’t narrate the first person while using third person pronouns, precious.


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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