Why I LOVE third person! (and HATE first…)

Okay so I’ve seen this topic thrown around on forums and on FB a lot, and I think it’s an interesting one to discuss.  Especially because it appears that I am in the minority when it comes to narrative preferences with books that I read, and write, for that matter!

QUESTION:  Which do you prefer:  First person or third person narrative?

For those who don’t know, here are the definitions:

First-person narrative is a narrative mode where a story is narrated by one character at a time, speaking for and about themselves. First-person narrative may be singular, plural or multiple as well as being an authoritative, reliable or deceptive “voice” and represents point of view in the writing.

The narrators explicitly refer to themselves using words and phrases involving “I” (referred to as the first-person singular) and/or “we” (the first-person plural). This allows the reader or audience to see the point of view (including opinions, thoughts, and feelings) only of the narrator, and no other characters. In some stories, first-person narrators may refer to information they have heard from the other characters, in order to try to deliver a larger point of view. Other stories may switch from one narrator to another, allowing the reader or audience to experience the thoughts and feelings of more than one character.

In the third-person narrative mode, each and every character is referred to by the narrator as “he”, “she”, “it”, or “they”, but never as “I” or “we” (first person), or “you” (second-person). In third-person narrative, it is obvious that the narrator be merely an unspecified entity or uninvolved person that conveys the story, but not a character of any kind within the story being told.

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of the books I wind up reading are written in first person, so that must mean that most people enjoy it.  In fact, the last four books I’ve read were written using that narrative, and I did my best to get over my qualms and just enjoy the stories.  Because there are some really great books out there written using first person (cough cough, Dresden Files), and I would be doing a disservice to myself by passing them up simply because I don’t like the narrative.

But I find it harder to enjoy reading a book where I become the character.  I guess I prefer reading about someone versus becoming them, if that makes sense.  Especially if they are an annoying or boring character (like Bella Swan!).  And plus when a book is written in third person, it allows the reader to experience the emotions and exploits of several different characters, not just the one, all in the same chapter or scene without being confusing.  For me that’s more fun!  I want to know what everyone is thinking and feeling and experiencing as an event takes place, and the only way to do that is with third person.

I’ve never attempted to write in first person so I really don’t know if I would like it or not, but I think it would be very difficult for me.  I love getting into the minds of my characters, but it would feel weird to me to write as though I was them.  It’s easier almost to be the omniscient puppetmaster, pulling the strings but not actually becoming the character being moved across the stage.  Why that is, I don’t know.  But I think it has a lot to do with the types of books I read growing up and the influence they’ve had on my writing style.

For example, my biggest inspiration as I’ve often said is Nora Roberts.  I have yet to find a book of hers where she writes in first person.  All of her novels (as far as I’m aware) are in third person, and there are a few of them that involve a large cast of characters where she jumps into the shoes of many people throughout the book (Montana Sky, Three Fates, etc).  There is no real main character, there are six or seven of them, plus countless secondary characters, and she does transitions from character to character beautifully and seamlessly.  With first person, such a feat would be very hard to accomplish and would most likely just end up being really confusing unless you separated the characters by chapters.  Either way, my writing style seems best suited when written as third person, so I suppose I’ll stick to what I know best!

What do you prefer?  It really does feel as though 80% of the books coming out these days are in first person, but is there still a place in reader’s hearts for third person?

I sure hope so! 🙂

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” -Dirty Harry





16 thoughts on “Why I LOVE third person! (and HATE first…)

  1. I prefer third person as well, but it feels like every thing these days is written in first. It could be due to the success of books like Twilight, but my guess is that most authors just find it easier to write in first person.

    Maybe I’m just partial to a lot of POV characters.

    • I agree! All of the bestsellers nowadays (Harry Potter excluded of course) seem to be first person. Clearly enough people enjoy reading it for those books to be so popular. I find I have a hard time getting into a book written in first person, unless the character is really interesting and witty.

  2. This is actually quite funny – I just did a post on POV yesterday!
    Its always neat to hear what author’s think about each POV. I’ve never had a problem writing either and I find I enjoy both thus far.
    I listed some of my favorite books and I now find that what I read is an even split where third/first is concerned!
    Until I really looked at the books, I didn’t know what POV they were written in because I got so sucked into the story itself.

    • That is funny! It’s a popular topic right now 🙂 That’s good that you enjoy both, I wish I did! Though one of my favorite book series is written in first person (The Dresden Files) so I will make exceptions 😉 Like you said, sometimes the story is just SO good that you forget all about POV!

      • You know, I’ve been meaning to find that series in Barnes and Noble (if I ever get out there again lol) and see if I like it or not. I actually found it while research a literary agent!

  3. I’m a fan of good old-fashioned third-person. I’m the same way as you when I write: I like to be able to get int everything that’s going on; one person’s narrative can be far too limiting.
    Plus, first person past-tense often spoils the ending: they live. No drama whatsoever.

    • LOL you totally just made me crack up. Do you like to kill off your main characters? I suppose it is obvious when a book is written in first person that the main character lives. I never thought about it that way though!

  4. Actually, it makes me want to read your books more. I am not a fan of first person. I tire of reading books that are in first person and so many now seem to be.

    I love third person. Like you, I would rather walk beside the characters (lots of characters) than be the character.

  5. I experiment with point of view in my writing. I believe all of them require skill. To see an author who tried everything including second person (which is just plain weird to me), check out this Pulitzer Prize winner: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I think what annoys me most about point of view is reading a novel where the “author” just doesn’t understand the craft and it is poorly executed. I’ve read too many of those lately and it drives me nuts (so does poorly executed dialogue). Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I find it fascinating.

    • I know, I should probably give writing first person a try someday just to say I’ve done it lol! I’ll have to check out Jennifer’s work, second person would be weird but could be interesting too.

      • At first I wasn’t sure if I’d like the book, but once I got into the flow and understood it, I became an admirer of her skilled use of point of view. It gave me the courage to experiment in my latest work a bit, although I’m not sure I’d ever go as far as her.

  6. It’s funny, this is a hot topic for me and my writing partner, as we both dislike first person. Because YA is such a popular genre right now, it does seem like everything is written in this manner. There is some good first person out there–Hunger Games, for example–though I personally didn’t like the books after the first one (she should’ve stopped there, IMO) but I respect that they were well crafted. And of course there’s the awesome Dresden Files. I’ve written in first person myself, but as others have said, found it to be too limiting. It takes a very skilled hand to step outside that single character’s POV by noting the environmental/other character reactions to relay what’s going on away from that person’s perspective. Since I write sci-fi/fantasy it could never work in my world. BTW: your love of Dresden and dislike of third person made me download your book. So it goes to show, you never know what you’re going to do or say that might draw in a new reader. 🙂

    • I haven’t read Hunger Games yet, but I hear it’s very good! It does seem like most YA books are written in first person like you said, and I wonder if that’s because the target audience for YA prefers it? I don’t know, I never have, even when I was twelve or thirteen.

      Awe, thanks Jennifer! The Dresden Files are the best (first person and all…I actually enjoy getting inside Harry’s head. He’s just so witty and sarcastic! Lol)

  7. Hate hate HATE first person narrative. It’s the first thing I find about a book before choosing it. I don’t want to be someone else, I just want to be entertained.

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 )

Connecting to %s