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1st Person vs 3rd Person: The Eternal Debate

It’s me checking on writing again. Lately I’ve read a couple of novels (by a couple I mean: I binge-read about ten YA books in two weeks) and I noticed they all had something in common: they all involved 1st person POV. Don’t get me wrong – I like 1st person POV, when it’s well done. You could probably call that for all the books – I like when the POV is well done and well written, and I feel like it fits into the story.

Sometimes, you read a novel and you get the character from page one. Better yet, from line one. Sometimes it’s about the voice of the novel, but sometimes it’s also about narrative choices – and in this case, one involving choosing between 1st person and 3rd person.

There are many wonderful things about this two povs – actually, there are many great things. You can choose one or the other (or you can do both! I’ve recently read Anna Banks’ Of Poseidon and loved it). But it’s a tough choice – how do you know which one to choose? Which one does fit your story?

It starts with the difference – 3rd person has a lot more amplitude. You can switch to bigger scenery views, hop into character’s heads and see what everyone is thinking at different times. It’s a great choice if you’re writing an adventure or action novel that has lots of descriptive scenes. 1st person is usually more punchy – you have the character’s mind and comments all the time. Everything goes through a filter – the character’s filter – and sometimes, the world view gets limited. But sometimes, it expands – everything depends on that said character.

Some examples of good 1st person POVs, in my opinion, include: Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead (Rose is unforgetable), Blood Red Road by Moira Young (wowza) and my particular favorite the Bartimaeus trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud. All of this chatacters have unique points of view and world, and they make their story interesting. But 3rd POV is also great – Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett&Neil Gaiman and The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown. All of these are great stories.

But how do you know which one you choose for your own story?

Other writers can’t choose for you – usually, I know in my gut which is the right kind of POV for my story when I start it right away. Rarely had I to change everything because it sounded wrong – I just knew right away. You’re probably thinking – LAURA, YOU’RE NOT HELPING! Give us a trick! Magic! I need to solve this problem!

And it got me thinking that I actually know what the trick is.

For me, 1st person vs 3person is about a character vs a story. It sounds absurd, right? Because you need a story and a character every time you write a novel. But the decision you have to make is – which one is more important in this particular WIP? And you’ve got the trick done.

In my latest work, FIREBIRD, I loved the story and the worldbuilding. But this was not a story about a journey – this was a story about my character, Tatiana, and all the changes she goes through. I needed her POV because she was the key to my story. When I sat down to write it, I loved everything – but I loved Tatiana more. In The Siren’s Call, this was different – I loved the characters, but there was also the story and the scenery. Pirates! Ships! The Caribbean! Mermaids, cannons and forbidden love! There were many exciting things besides the characters – and that’s why I chose the 3rd POV. It felt right, and everything clicked.

So every time you start a WIP, ask yourself: what do you care more about this story? What made you sit down to write it? Was it the characters? The journey? The adventure? Find the answer and you can probably find which POV you’re going to use.

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3 thoughts on “1st Person vs 3rd Person: The Eternal Debate”

  1. Love this post! I feel exactly the same way about POV–I just know in the beginning which one the story needs. Personally though, I’ve gotten comments from agents that my third person POV feels distant (and it’s probably because I like to use it for the quieter, more mysterious characters because I don’t want to give the reader too much access to their thoughts) and so I tend to write in first person more just because like you said, it comes out punchier.

    1. Yep, exactly! Although I like 3rd POV for adventures (and on most times I’ll actually choose it), there are some characters that just SCREAM that they’re the ones who should be narrating. Again, it really depends on what you’re aiming for!

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