Erin K. Larson-Burnett, Production Manager at Atmosphere Press (submit your manuscript here!), is a born-and-raised Southerner currently living in Katy, Texas, with her husband and their small domestic zoo. She is an avid ink drinker who lives and breathes books—during the day, she works remotely with authors around the world, honing and perfecting books published through Atmosphere Press. By night, she crafts her own stories…or at least tries to. The Bear & the Rose is her debut novel.
First Person vs Third Person POV
Choosing between first- and third-person point of view (POV) is one of the most fundamental decisions a writer makes. Narrative perspective is the lens through which your story comes alive, shaping the reader’s experience and influencing the entire narrative dynamic. Each POV offers unique strengths and weaknesses, setting the rhythm for the entire tale, and the best choice depends on the specific story you want to tell.
What is Narrative Perspective?
Narrative perspective is the point of view from which the story is told. It’s like a camera lens through which the reader experiences the events. The two main types are:
First Person: The narrator is a character in the story, telling it using “I,” “me,” and “my.” This creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy, as the reader experiences everything through the character’s eyes and thoughts.
Third Person: The narrator is not a character in the story. They tell it using “he,” “she,” “it,” and “they.” This allows for greater flexibility and objectivity, as the narrator can move between different characters’ perspectives and reveal information that individual characters might not know.
Third Person POV Subcategories:
Third-person limited: Focuses on the thoughts and feelings of one character, similar to first-person in intimacy.
Third-person omniscient: The narrator has unlimited knowledge of all characters and events, often providing commentary and judgment.
When to Choose First-Person POV
Intimate stories: First person is well-suited for stories that focus on a single character’s internal journey. The emotional depth and personal connection forged through the “I,” “me,” and “my” of first-person create an immersive experience, making it an ideal choice for stories where the character’s internal struggles, growth, and self-discovery are at the forefront. It allows readers to connect deeply with the character’s emotions and motivations.
Unreliable narrators: This perspective can be effective when the narrator is unreliable, creating suspense and mystery. If your character’s honesty is in question, the inherent subjectivity of first-person introduces an element of doubt and suspense. Readers are compelled to question the narrator’s version of events, adding layers of complexity and intrigue to the narrative.
Strong voice: If your character has a unique voice, first-person can be a great way to showcase it. If your protagonist possesses a distinct personality, tone, or way of expressing themselves, first-person provides the perfect stage for showcasing these traits. It allows the character’s voice to resonate authentically, imprinting a lasting impression on readers.
When to Choose Third-Person POV
Multiple perspectives: Third-person shines when your narrative unfolds through the eyes of multiple important characters. It grants the writer the ability to seamlessly shift between different viewpoints, offering readers a panoramic view of the events. This perspective becomes indispensable in stories with a diverse ensemble cast, each POV contributing a unique thread to the overarching tapestry and offering a broader view of the events.
Objective tone: Third-person allows for a more objective tone, which can be effective for historical fiction or other genres where neutrality is important. Third-person allows the author to present the story without the filter of a character’s emotions, presenting a balanced and comprehensive account of the narrative landscape.
Complex world-building: If your story has a complex world or backstory, third-person allows you to reveal information gradually and build suspense. The external narrator can strategically unveil information, building suspense and intrigue. This approach allows the writer to carefully craft the unveiling of details, preventing information overload while immersing readers in the complexity of the world being created.
Here are some additional factors to consider when choosing first-person vs. third-person narrative perspective:
Genre: Different genres tend to favor certain perspectives. For example, mysteries often use first-person narration to build suspense, while science fiction and fantasy often use third-person for world-building.
Target audience: Consider who you are writing for. Younger readers might prefer the immediacy of first person, while older readers might appreciate the complexity of third-person.
Personal preference: Ultimately, the best perspective is the one that you feel most comfortable writing in. Experiment with both and see which one allows you to tell your story in the most effective way.
Tips for Writing in First-Person vs. Third-Person POV
Use strong verbs and sensory details to bring the world to life through the character’s senses.
Be consistent with the character’s voice and personality.
Avoid info dumping. Reveal information gradually as the character experiences it.
Decide how much information you want to reveal about each character’s thoughts and feelings.
Use transitions smoothly when switching between characters’ perspectives.
Avoid head-hopping, which is switching between characters’ perspectives within the same paragraph.
In conclusion, there’s no definitive right or wrong in selecting a narrative perspective; it’s about choosing what best serves your unique story—experiment with both perspectives until you find the one that allows you to tell your story in the most powerful and engaging way!
Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful in choosing the point of view for your story: