1st-Person vs. 3rd-Person: Which POV Is Right for Your Book?

1st-Person POV vs. 3rd-Person POV: Which POV Is Right for Your Book?

This week’s video discusses the pros and cons of 1st-person POV vs. 3rd-person POV in order to help you make the right decision for your book.

Video Transcript:

Few decisions are more crucial to your story than that of point of view (or POV). This is a multi-faceted decision, involving the questions: Who’s going to narrate? How many narrators will you have? What the narrator’s voice sound like? And, Will it be a 1st-person POV or a 3rd-person POV?

1st-person, of course, has the narrator directly speaking to the reader: I fought the mighty dragon.

3rd-person uses the character’s name and the 3rd-person pronouns “he” or “she”: Frederica fought the mighty dragon.

This is a decision that’s going to affect every sentence, so you know you want to get it right. But how do you decide which is right for your book—a 1st-person POV or a 3rd-person POV?

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been pondering this myself as I work on my historical superhero story Wayfarer, set in Regency England. I’m not yet quite happy with the narrative voice, so I’ve been playing with it—back and forth between a 3rd-person POV and a 1st-person POV.

Now I’m not here to tell you which is right for your book. Both are completely legitimate choices. But here are three thoughts to help you decide.

1. Even deep 3rd-person will always put a little extra distance between your character and your readers. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but sometimes it’s actually a good thing. 1st-person narrators necessarily tend to be very self-aware, and when you’re dealing with a flawed character, that can make him less likable than he would be otherwise.

2. It also means you have to be much more conscious of showing your narrative rather than telling it.

3. And it means you have to be hyper-aware of the character’s voice, since every single word is, in essence, coming right out of his mouth.

In short, the 1st-person POV can be tricky, which is why I will once again probably end up writing this book in 3rd. But that doesn’t mean 1st-person isn’t an equally marvelous narrative technique, as long as you go into it knowing its pitfalls and how to utilize its advantages.

Tell me your opinion: Which will you use for your story—a 1st-person POV or a 3rd-person POV? Why?

1st-Person vs. 3rd-Person: Which POV Is Right for Your Book?

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Email:
About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I’ve written in both POVs. As I think about the question, it hits me right between the eyes why it ends up one way or another.
    If the protagonist is a man, I use the intimate (or deep?) third person. This allows me into his mind and also limits the view of the story seen through his eyes only. This SIMPLIFIES the story line and allows me to write in a straight line without the digressions that a more omniscient 3rd person POV allows. At the same time, it gives me that slight distance where I feel comfortable writing from the view of a man.
    If the protagonist is a woman, I discover (for it was never a conscious plan) that I have more fun in first person. Usually this means quite a break from my own voice into the voice of the character, with all sorts of opportunities to be outrageous, and to flex an oddball sense of humour. I have a latent ms about a Neapolitan scugnizza (street urchin) who falls in love with an operatic tenor. What a joyride it was to write that! I may go back to it, shape it better, and give it a better ending. When I first wrote it I had no idea of structure. Now I do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The single most important factor in choosing a first-person POV is an amazing voice. If the character’s voice is flat, why bother? Third will probably work much better. But if they have a lively voice, first-person can really make the whole thing pop.

  2. robert easterbrook says:

    For the current WIP, it’s 3rd-person. I use 3rd-person because I like hearing the different characters’ voices rather a single character’s voice. That’s just me. I suppose, if I am honest, and I am, that I’ve been influenced by my favorite authors – they write mostly 3rd-person. But at least three authors I enjoy write 1st-person: Philipa Gregory, Suzannah Dunn, and Martin Booth.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s always useful to pay attention to what we enjoy when reading. I tend to like third-person more, which is another reason I’ll probably stick with third for this book.

  3. I must say that your ability to describe, explain and convey writing skills is very good. When I get confused about showing and telling I come back to any of your definitions and I feel better with the understanding you provide.

    I would have liked a longer stint at first and third voices, mixing them up, shifting from one to the other, and how to warn the reader what is about to happen. Who will be talking(showing) next. I feel that first is good for a lead character and third from the supporting staff?

    Thanks for what you do!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Mixing first- and third-person narratives is a technique that goes all the way back to Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. As long as you maintain consistency in introducing and using the POVs, you can pull it off very well.

  4. Great topic! This has always been one of my struggles as well. One of the things I have noticed about first person, though, is that it is harder to really describe and get to know the other main characters because everything is so filtered through one person’s head.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to maintaining a single POV. The major disadvantage, as you say, is that you’re limited to the perspective of just one character. But what you lose in variety, you can often make make in the added intimacy the readers get with that one character.

  5. Thank you. This topic really speaks to me! I have been writing and revising (write, revise, repeat) two novels with the same protagonist for years, in third person POV. Then I attended a workshop with David Ulin, the L.A. Times book critic. He did not ask me to change the POV, but what he said became a catalyst for that. It was, “This is really a story of a woman trying to figure out who she is and what she wants. That is the spine of the book. Mystery and intrigue are the overstory, but understory is dominant.”

    Sitting with that, I realized I was keeping distance between myself and the protagonist because I did not want to release into my own feelings. It feels so vulnerable! But when I switched to fist person and did it, it changed everything. In my case, first person POV makes the story much more compelling. (Interested can read Chapter One here http://bit.ly/1xgFSNV )

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Great observation about the “understory/overstory.” Figuring out the balance is really important in understanding what kind of story you’re writing!

  6. I’m one of those readers who hates, loathes, and despises first person. If I see that’s the POV the book is written in, I put it down or don’t buy it. I will make an occasional exception for fellow author friends who are looking for feedback from me, but that’s it.

    I don’t buy first-person. I avoid it like the plague. The most recent one I tried to read is considered a classic in my genre, and I totally understand the author’s reasons for doing it that way. But I still couldn’t finish it. Had it not been a library book, I’d have wall-banged it. I hated the heroine that much. I wanted to be in the hero’s head, and I was denied that.

    It’s not something I’ll ever try to write a book in. I’ll do the occasional prologue in first person, to help me figure out what’s going on, but no one else ever reads it.

    I don’t have as many issues with a single POV story if it’s done in third-person, but I still usually end up locked into the head of the character I care least about.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It is worth noting that some readers – like you – passionately hate first-person. But I don’t think I’ve ever run into anyone who hates third.

      • I don’t hate third, but I will say it is much harder to keep my attention in third because my impression is that the interiority tends to be less present or powerful. I would be interested to check out examples of great interiority third person POV if you have them to recommend. Thanks.

      • Kat Laytham says:

        I enjoy third-person, but I love first-person. I love the intimacy of the journey, and I like an unreliable narrator who doesn’t seem to know themselves (until the end) as well as we come to through cues from them and those around them. In my latest university writing assignment, I used first-person for the protagonist and third-person for the antagonist(s).

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          And there we have the opposite side of the coin! First-person also has people who adamantly love it. It seems to be much more divisive than third, in general.

        • Courtney says:

          First person for the protagonist and third person for the antagonist sounds fascinating. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never heard of a book that switches POVs and until reading all these comments, would have dismissed it. I might play with that, just to see what it does. The sudden switch doesn’t bother readers? I imagine it would throw me off if the start of the next chapter started with 3rd instead of first…

          • Sue Monk Kidd’s book, ‘The Mermaid Chair’ switches between 1st person POV and 3rd person POV when she switches chapters, although most of the book is 1st person. It was jarring at first, but then I got used to it and immediately knew which character the chapter was focusing on given the POV being used.

          • Thank you Paula. I will definitely check that book out. What an interesting way to clue in readers to the POV character 🙂

    • thomas h cullen says:

      Intriguing last sentiment.

  7. I generally find if I’m writing a piece centered more on an internal conflict, 1st Person is my go to method, because it let’s me and by proxy the reader get into the thoughts of the character and why they’re doing what they’re doing and what their future actions are going to be. Making them and their actions more understandable.

    I generally prefer 1st person to 3rd because of this and it’s sometimes a bit of a weakness of mine in that I tend to go into exposition rather than adding to the plot or to the story. But in that I like seeing the inner psychology of my own characters and the characters I read in novels and 1st Person gives me that little extra depth or understanding to a character than what can be achieved in 3rd person, at least in my opinion anyways. In contrast 3rd person can give a greater viewpoint as to the world around the individual and the characters involved, because in first person you only see what your character sees, but third person is more symbolic(?) or offers a more wholesome experience I suppose you can say.

    Nice article.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re smart to let the story determine which POV is best. Every story will have different needs.

  8. Oh this is a constant struggle for me, even half way through a draft! If I write in 1st, my characters can annoy me by the end of the scene, but if I write in 3rd, I just can’t get into it.
    What I’ve gotten into the habit of doing is writing in 1st to be able to enjoy everything being processed through the POV’s senses, and then editing the draft to change every “I,” “me,” or “my” to a name or 3rd person pronoun. I usually have to edit a few other sentences that just don’t work from 3rd, but I eventually end up with deep 3rd that can also zoom way out when I need to get out of a character’s head. (I love my protag, but after 5 or 6 chapters in her head, I need to hear from someone a little more rational and emotionally stable, so I ended up with multi-POV, and some distant 3rd.)

    The only problem I’ve discovered so far with this method, is that sometimes even in the 4th draft, I’ll find a stray “I” in there. Now that’s an embarrassing error for your betas to find. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I do that too sometimes. When you’re writing in deep third, there’s very little that needs altering other than the pronouns.

  9. Janet Kerr says:

    Can you give the title of a book written in first-person POV that is exceptionally well done?

  10. A very interesting case of POV comes from a highly lauded author – Marilynne Robinson – in her three Gilead novels. Here it is discussed in the NYT review of Lila, winner of the 2014 Nat’l Book Award. Lila is written in close third person. Gilead won a Pulitzer and was written in the first person view of Ames. Fascinating what is said about that below: “Who cared about another side? Ames’s point of view was truer, or at least more interesting, than any purportedly real truth.” At its best, I would say that is the incredible power of first person POV.

    ” The most forceful piece of technical machinery operating in Robinson’s Gilead books is point-of-view narration. “Gilead” is written in the first person: Ames speaking to us, or, rather, to Robby (it is a letter for the boy to read when he is grown). “Lila,” like “Home,” employs a tight—that is, heavily filtered—third-person. As Henry James put it, the narrative emerges from a “central intelligence.” (Lila is “she,” not “I,” but everything is recorded as she alone sees it.) Each of the three Gilead books can stand on its own. I didn’t hear anybody complaining, when “Gilead” was published, that we were getting only Ames’s side of the story. Who cared about another side? Ames’s point of view was truer, or at least more interesting, than any purportedly real truth. But now Robinson has followed up “Gilead” with “Home” and “Lila,” which often, while covering the same events as “Gilead,” contradict that book, and each other, too. Or, if they don’t actually catch each other in lies, they still manage, by omission or inclusion or shading, to cast a different light on matters.” http://nyr.kr/1CBpPIZ

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There’s a sequel to Gilead? I read that one ages ago, but had no idea she followed it up. Thanks!

  11. thomas h cullen says:

    The best reading experience I’ve ever had’s been first-person: “The Help”, Kathryn Stockett.

    The Representative bounces, existing as a compromise between the two.. The voice is third-person, but it speaks on behalf of Croyan: Croyan’s position is the story’s position.

    This is part of what makes The Representative so outstandingly ground-breaking. It has the balls to take absolute hard-line positions.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I haven’t read The Help yet. Saw the movie, but that use of POV is *slightly* different. 😉

  12. When I tell (write) a story, I visualize myself sitting with my ancient ancestors around the fire (that we had just recently tamed). I tell stories about my experiences, stories about other peoples’ experiences, and stories about the gods, the forces of nature, and mythic heroes. The first of these I tell in first person point-of-view. The other two are in third person, sometimes limited, sometimes omniscient, depending on the need of the story.

    For first person POV, I’m talking about me.

    For third person limited, I’m talking about how someone else felt and saw things. The story is from their perspective, but it is not something that I directly experienced.

    For third person omniscient, I am talking as a narrator, not as a participant in the events. When I tell someone what happened between a couple of my friends, I do not tell the story as if I participated in their disagreement. I tell the story as an outsider who saw the event, but was not involved in the argument. I will likely say that person A thought “this” while person B thought “that,” but neither was correct because I knew “the other thing” was the answer. In our every day conversations, we often speak in third person omniscient; however, now days, that style is not common in written narratives.

    My current project is first person POV because it is a memoir. (A true story about how I was accidentally taken to another world, met aliens, befriended a Dragon, saved that world, and ultimately saved Earth. Since no one believes the story is true, I label it as fiction to keep people from thinking something is wrong with me.)

    The next story in the series will be in third person limited with multiple POV characters because I want to explore how the radically different characters each see the Universe and their place in it. (What does a Dragon think when an appetizing human is riding on his back?)

    I recently wrote a short story in third person omniscient. It was the origin story for one of the characters in my current project. The narrator told us how this person found the path in life that led them to their destiny as a great hero.

    I don’t have a preference because the need of the story dictates point-of-view. Sometimes the story needs to be explored in several POVs to find the one best suited.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There is definitely a time and place for the omniscient POV, but you’re right that it’s largely unpopular these days. When we *do* use it, it should always be consciously and with utmost control, because it’s arguably the trickiest of all the POVs to write well.

  13. My first (and only) published short story was originally written in 3rdPPOV. It was so personal and riddled with internal struggle that I struggled to convey how his mind was tormenting him. I scrapped it and wrote it in 1stPPOV. When I finished, I was like, “Yes.”

    I will say that the first draft in 3rdPPOV helped me hammer out the structure so my re-write was more focused on the interal struggle, and in the end making it a stronger story.

    I find that establishing settings is difficult in 1stPPOV, so I like to write it in modern settings. The distance that 3rd person gives makes world building a little easier. I think you’re historical superhero story would be very tough in 1stPPOV, but you’re are much better at this than I.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Actually, that’s the conclusion I’ve pretty much come to as well. I felt this particular character started out too flawed (and, shall we say, young) to work well in first-person. I’m sticking with third for the time being.

  14. I’ve been having the same problem with my story. First or third? Switched between both voices a couple of times just to try it out, but am still having difficulty deciding.

    I like first person POVs precisely because it lets you get into the head of the character, which makes you relate to him/her more. That’s true, and I want that. However, you end up following just one character throughout the whole novel. And I don’t want to write multiple POVs. It wouldn’t suit the story.

    I like third person omniscient, on the other hand, precisely because you’re not as attached to the main character, and that you get to see the thoughts of other characters as well. However, it’s not as intimate.

    I’ve been thinking up ways, recently, on how a 1st person omniscient POV can be possible. I heard The Book Thief and Lovely Bones were written with such a POV (one narrator was Death, and the other was dead). I’m just thinking that there’s got to be another way to write such a POV, and am wondering how it would turn out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s possible (although definitely tricky) to handle this by having a present narrator look back on a past experience. He’s omniscient in the sense that he’s already lived the story and knows how it turns out and, possibly, what other characters were thinking, thanks to his hindsight.

  15. Courtney says:

    Hey, I’ve been wondering about this all day. Over the years I’ve learned that there are actually a lot of similarities in the mechanics of writing and drawing. In art, I’ve been taught that if you want to draw a cozy, warm blanket, you don’t draw everything with blurry squiggles. If you do this, the effect of the blanket being cozy and soft will be lost because everything is of equal texture. Rather, you should draw the blanket that way, but draw the wicker chair it’s sitting on with harsh, angular jabs to juxtapose the differences and therefore make the blanket look even softer. I’ve always assumed it’s the same with intimate POV. If you write everything in 1st, everything will be of equal intimacy and therefore the moments you want readers to really connect with could get lost. I think it was Nancy Kress who argues that 3rd person lets you write with a greater gambit of distance and intimacy, and that if you master the gambit, you can write 3rd POV scenes with greater intimacy than 1st. Any thoughts?

    [Although, I also connected with Veronica Roth’s Tris Prior on a deeper level than I usually connect to with characters. I’m not sure if that has to do with Divergent’s 1st POV in present tense or if Tris just over analyzes things in a way that seemed real to me. Where as in some 3rd POV books (I just re-read Jurassic Park) I almost can’t connect to any of the characters (especially true of Jurassic Park where Chricton uses few pronouns, choosing instead to re-write characters names throughout a scene even when there’s only one character—something I found jarring.)]

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There’s very little that deep third-person can’t do that first-person can–and are there definitely things third *can* do that first can’t. In general, it’s a hugely flexible perspective that, as you say, can offer both distance and intimacy as the story requires.

  16. I have two projects on the boil at the moment, one of which is a Tween Urban Fantasy that’s entirely in 3rd limited, so I can get a sense of wonder while playing all those unreliable narrator tricks that come with that POV.

    The other project is an Urban Fantasy aimed at adults, with three POVs – the protagonist in 1st, the antagonist in 3rd omniscient, and the protagonist’s protégé, in 3rd limited. This project has protected my shelf from dust for about 15yrs, and it wasn’t until I read the brilliant Hades (and its sequel, Eden) by Candice Fox that I saw how the story needed to be told.

  17. Curtis Manges says:

    When mixing POVs within a story, be sure not to mix them within a scene; it’s usually confusing. A form of this is called “head-hopping” and is not at all a welcome practice.

    Limit each scene to one POV only and you’ll be fine. If you feel the reader needs a warning that the POV has changed, just name the POV character at the beginning of the scene e.g., “Bill heard the sirens before he saw the lights.”

    I always use 3rd, but I change the zoom and focus.

  18. And then there twists to the traditional POV techniques, like Elizabeth Kostova’s book “The Historian.” Like its inspiration, “Dracula,” the book is written in first person, but from multiple different narrators (like “Dracula,” it’s told in the form of letters and journal entries by several different people). It was an interesting read (for many reasons, not just POV). I usually read and write third person, often with multiple characters. I don’t know if I’d be up for writing a book with narration like “The Historian,” though, with having to use so many different personal and distinctive narrative voices. It’s a fascinating study in narrative style, though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ah, yes, the old epistolary style. We don’t see it too often these days, but it definitely has its uses.

    • When I write in 3rd deep, from a single set of eyes, I’m therefore constrained from showing events happening off stage. Letters are marvellous tools to show the view of other characters. I think, however, the letters must be used with strategic care, must reflect the writing style of the sender, and must not ramble on past a short paragraph or two at most, or they threaten to interrupt the flow. AND like dialogue they must advance the drama.

  19. The novel I am currently working on is written in 3rd-person POV. But, most of the short stories I’ve written are in 1st-person POV. I don’t exactly know how I choose each one every time I do, it just occurs to me and it feels right through the whole writing process.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I find it much more intuitive to write shorts in first than I do novels. Shorts tend to be a little more intimate, if nothing else.

  20. Lorna G. Poston says:

    I would be very excited to see your book written in 1st Person POV. My favorite of your short stories, as you know, is One More Ride In the Rain. I loved seeing you try the 1st Person POV in that one. It was exceptionally done. You got inside the MC’s head in ways many 1st Person writers cannot accomplish, and it was brilliant. Since reading it, I’ve always hoped you’d decide to give it a go in a full-length novel.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks! I appreciate that a lot. 🙂 At this point, it looks like Wayfarer will stay in third. But if I ever find a voice that feels as natural as the one in One More Ride in the Rain, I’ll have to give first another try.

  21. Madeline T says:

    Very interesting and informative article! I currently have 2 WIP, one in 1st and one in 3rd person POV. The 3rd is very easy to write as the protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on for the first half of the book and is too terrified to face what’s going on in the second half. I think it would annoy readers to have that one in 1st. My other WIP is getting rather fun as it’s told in 1st person from the POV of the villain. I’ve never tried that before, but even though his character is EXTREMELY flawed, he sees his flaws not as weaknesses, but as virtues. After all, “every villain is a hero in his own mind.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As a reader, I rarely like antagonist POVs. But as a writer, I always find myself drawn to them. They’re so useful to figuring out what’s happening behind the scenes, especially when the antagonist and protagonist aren’t on stage together.

  22. For me, the POV I use comes down to how much description I’ll be using. I’ve noticed I tend to rely very heavily on describing things–settings, scenes, and the emotions and thoughts of the characters. Using a first person POV always ends up falling flat for me. I think it’s due to the fact that, like you said, a first person POV diminishes the distance between character and reader. Because I like to describe, it seems unnatural to use a first person POV, especially when explaining emotion or describing something. When you see a tree, you usually don’t mentally note the shape of the leaves, the texture of the bark, or the birds singing in the topmost branches. Similarly, when you’re going through something, you usually don’t stop and mentally articulate exactly what you’re feeling and why. A third person POV gives you the power to do both, whereas in a first person POV, if I were to do the same thing as far as description, I get caught up in the question, “Who thinks this way?” since the narrative comes from the character.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Description – no matter what type of POV you’re in – is more about noting a character’s observations of a tree (or whatever) than of recording his actual thoughts about the tree. When you look at a tree, your brain instantly processes the details in far greater nuance than any description could offer. It’s there in your head, even if you’re not consciously thinking about it. As writers, we’re just trying to evoke the same stimuli in the reader’s brain that the character is recognizing effortlessly. So it’s worthwhile whether you’re in first or deep third – just as it would be in an omniscient POV.

  23. I’ve come to think this question is best thought of in terms of the writer’s personal makeup. Is s/he a frustrated actor? Then writing in third person makes a lot of sense. That way, the writer can take all the parts, the way Bottom wants to in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If the writer is essentially a monologuist, a speech-maker and yarn-spinner, maybe first-person is the way to go. But then again, a great deal depends on the nature of the story itself. Most are best told one way or the other.

  24. Many readers will skip over lengthy descriptions, especially if they’re not tied to the character’s POV. I think this applies to whatever POV you choose…the character’s attitudes and emotions must be the lens through which the scene or other characters are viewed.

    I used to dread doing descriptions until I realized that descriptions give the writer a great opportunity to reveal and deepen characterizations. Now I have fun with them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Descriptions *are* a lot of fun! It’s all about controlling the narrative. Anything we show is reflective of so many areas of story – primarily character, but also symbolism and tone.

    • S J, I don’t remember the exact moment when it occurred to me that descriptions, as you say, are part of deepening the character’s view of the world. You are so right: it is such fun. It takes the strain right out of this endless search for an interesting way to see the fiction world we write about. Somebody recently likened it to method acting. You really have to BE the character. Which is the most fun possible.

  25. For my book 3d person POV seems most natural as there is multiple POV characters. The problem I am having is when to use author’s voice. I wonder whether I should use it all, because some people recommend not using author’s voice as it breaks immersion.

    However using the author’s voice I can cut down time on description quite a lot:
    e.g. I can write:

    On dark gloomy street there was a 2 story house with red roof. On 2nd floor room, a boy was sitting on a chair and writing..
    Then I switch to boys POV and do 3d person deep POV

    I could write the scene entirely from boy pov, however then I could not put a description of place . There is no way boy would think about roof of their house, without it feeling artificial. And even to describe the street – I would have to make him look out of the window (and even then he can only see whats in the window).

    In another scene I have a character on the busy market and people around him speak foreign(to him) language. There is no way I can make reader understand what people saying from deep POV . Thing is they are saying important thing, but character does not understand it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What you’re talking about here is actually an omniscient POV (which is told in 3rd-person). Deep 3rd-person, however, will adhere just as strictly to the narrator’s perspective (what he’s able to see, hear, etc.) as will 1st-person. It can sometimes work to begin a scene in a more distant POV, then segue into the narrator’s deep POV. But we have to be careful with that. It can easily turn into head-hopping.

      • My question about description always is this: how important is it to describe the dark street, the red roof, the boy sitting at a desk…?
        Why not just show the boy writing at the desk? If the description is that important, he could take a break from writing (as Max noted) and throw open the window and feel the breeze on his face and see the gloom of the night… and feel a sense of belonging – or of displacement – or of loneliness… whichever fits.
        If the red roof of his house is important to the story, he can always appreciate it walking home along the street. How important is the red roof? I show the red roofs of Heidelberg (in my historical novel) by having the MC stop each time he comes home on leave, when he leans on the old oak tree, and appreciates the view he has of the city along the mountain slope below his grey stone house.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Lyn raises a really excellent point here. The beauty of a deep narrative is that *everything* it is is reflective of the character. Descriptions aren’t just visual details; they also pull double duty as insights into the person who is observing them. What we lose in overall “cinematography” in an omniscient narrative is often repaid tenfold by the intimacy and subtext of the deep POV.

          • Thank you for reminding of the fact that description trough POV allow for deeper characterization in the way of show. Fact that character focuses on certain details and not the others can tell a lot about himself. However I am a bit wary of this approach because I am afraid it show characters overly reflexive. Which is not the quality I want to convey for most characters.

            Another thing is that the way scenes they appear in my imagination is certainly “cinematographic” and not tied to POV. I see the environment like trough a camera lens and then the characters and then their actions and dialogue. Rewriting this from character POV takes a lot of extra work and I do struggle with creating image of a scene this way.

            In the example above intention was to give a birds eye view on the quiet upscale street. With soft evening fog and lights creating atmosphere of coziness and safety. Now I also want to give a good impression of overall layout of the house so reader can clearly see it. Because later in the scene the action will start rolling and there will be little space time to spend on describing the environment

            I must admit though that omniscient POV in my own writing while is easy to write does feel jarring when I review it. Hence my constant struggle with the draft which is right is now is a huge mess

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            POV *is* limiting, but that’s really the point. We’re writing a novel from the perspective of a character, not a movie. There are pros and cons to both media, so what we gain in certain areas as novelists doesn’t mean we don’t lose something too when it comes to cinematography. We each have to balance the needs of our story in choosing which POV (and its limitations) will be best.

  26. Brandi Griffith says:

    I have been struggling with this decision in my own work. Right now it is in deep 3rd person POV, but my main-main character is one I am very tempted to write in 1st person POV. However, I have two other main characters whose POVs are just as important to the story that I couldn’t write from unless I did split POV…I am so torn. I’m trying to decide which way would be best for the story. Right now I am happy with deep 3rd, but may experiment with other techniques in revision. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s definitely an option to use both first and multiple third POVs. But that can get tricky, since it becomes even more important for the narrators’ voices to be distinctive.

    • I remember once I read the book where each chapter was written in first person. But each time from a perspective of a different character. It was actually quite interesting. I think partial reason while it was working that there was clear separation between POV switching in form of a chapter.
      And the way the plot was structured jump to new POV revealed questions posed by previous POV. (so like one was mercenary on a mission, next POV was from the contractor who hired mercenary and so on)

    • Brandi G says:

      Thank you both for your input. I tend to enjoy 3rd person, because I can go really deep into the character or hold back as needed. I have to restrain myself from head hopping sometimes though. Sometimes my scenes can sound omnicient 3rd when i start, but the difference is the fact that I rarely descibe something my POV character can’t see. Anything and everything is shown how the character sees it in their head based on their personality/mood/state of mind/recent events etc. whether it be the setting or another character’s actions.

  27. The last novel I wrote was in first person, but the story demanded it. I know some readers won’t read it, but I wrote the first half in third person and gave it to a few critiquers who said the story would be so much better in first person, and it truly is.
    But the one I’m working on now is going to be in 3rd person, but not omniscient. I’m going to focus on telling the story from the perspective of the mentor for the first act, the protagonist for the second act, and the antagonist for the third act. It sounds confusing, but so far it’s working.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Doesn’t matter how you write your story – some readers will *always* not read it. Write it the way it needs to be written and it will reach the audience it’s meant for.

  28. It was Lincoln who said… (and I insert ‘please’ in place of ‘fool’…)
    You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of thepeople all of the time.
    I have always written to please myself, knowing that there will be readers ‘out there’ who like my stories and characters.
    If you try to write for the everyman reader, you could drive yourself out of your mind. Or into a mechanical corner where the heart of the work is lost for trying to please others.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is, in my opinion, the best path for any author. If you love something, you can be sure others will share your love.

  29. I’m currently writing a story with multiple narrators, each giving their own slant on the events in the plot. At least three of the narrating characters can’t be trusted with first person, because they are horribly self-deluding. For at least one of them, first person is the only way to get her story across.

    POV shifts are a trap, though. I’m having to write each narrative thread in turn, then interweave them. It’s the only way I can keep the different voices consistent.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Unreliable first-person narrators can be be interesting, but only when the story calls for it. Otherwise, you’re right, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

  30. I’m a little late, but I just found this post and it helped me a lot to be sure I chose the right narrative.
    My novel’s main character is a very flawed one who is in denial about tons of aspects in life. It would be exciting to try telling his story in 1st person, but tricky too, which is why I chose the 3rd. He keeps secrets from the reader, he isn’t always honest with them and since he knows it would’ve been pretty hard to not turn the story into a confusing mess. Or do you have another opinion? 🙂 I’m always happy about input!

    I also want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I bought “Outlining Your Novel” and “Structuring Your Novel” a while back and it has helped me a lot. I was so lost, not knowing how to put my story together – I guess I can be too analytical sometimes – really got into my way. I’m still not finished, but I’ve grown thanks to your work and effort of helping others.

    Sincerely,
    Willow

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Awesome to hear you’ve found the books useful! And I think you’re spot-on in your decision to use third-person with your character. First-person creates a ton of intimacy, and sometimes we don’t necessarily want that with a less-than-likable character or one who is hiding deep secrets.

  31. Shaun Allen says:

    Hello there K.M, thanks for yet another great post. I am ready to start writing this fantasy series and wanted to do it in 1st person. However, the main character dies at the very end. Is that something that I should stay away from, and just do it in 3rd person? I guess I can switch to an epilogue with another minor /side character to finish it out, or maybe just switch to 3rd person that last chapter/epilogue?

    All that got me thinking, that if I did it that way – 1st person – MC dies at the end, would I be forced to write it in present tense, as past tense wouldn’t have sense as he would be dead all along- or am I thinking too hard on this? lol

    Thanks!

Trackbacks

  1. […] If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve been pondering this myself as I work on my historical superhero story Wayfarer, set in Regency …read more […]

  2. […] First person POV vs. third person POV Which one is right for you? Some writers feel at ease when writing in one or the other, but it takes time to experience which one suits you better. Care for some advice? […]

Speak Your Mind

*