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Author Topic: First vs. Third Person Narrative Perspective  (Read 8120 times)

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superpsycho

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First vs. Third Person Narrative Perspective

Many would-be writers ask which is the best narrative form; first or third person? The perspective best suited for any story, depends on the nature of the story. Each narrative style has advantages and disadvantages.

First person (I, me, we, us, etc.) has the limited perspective of a single person, which gives the reader the direct and personal perspective of the storyteller. Its limited viewpoint also makes it ideal for stories of discovery as the reader becomes aware of events along with the character doing the narration.

The personal nature of first person makes it well suited for romance, erotica, and stories dealing with psychological or emotional angst. The limited unfolding perspective of first person also makes it suitable for detective and coming of age stories. Many literary classics combine the personal and coming of age aspects of first person to create powerful narratives and characters readers can connect with directly. 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'The Catcher in the Rye' and 'Treasure Island' are well-known examples.

The advantages of first person are also its shortcomings. With events being seen through the eyes of a single person, the rate at which the story can unfold becomes limited. Sometimes dialog or scenes must be contrived so the narrating character can acquire information. This can make some stories seem to plod along causing problems when the plot and storyline require a rapid pace.

First person's intimate nature can be incompatible with characters intended to be larger than life. A personal insight to the thinking of heroic figures overcoming obstacles can end up diminishing their stature in the eyes of the reader or make them seem artificial if all emotion is avoided.

Some authors have gotten around the problem by making the narrator a companion like Sherlock Homes' Dr. Watson. Others have inserted a brash or cynical outlook into a character's personality to avoid the first person intimacy without having them come across as flat or mechanical.

Though a first person perspective can make for a powerful and compelling story that readers can connect to, it's only suitable for a narrow range of stories. It works well when telling the story of war's affect on a single soldier but becomes less personal and dramatic for stories of war in general. The wider the scope a story attempts to paint through one person's eyes, the greater the level of skill and experience required on the part of the author.

As the narration expands, from personal experience to that of observing the experience of others, the advantages of first person become diluted. The reader generally takes up the perspective of the narrator. As long as the story is centered around the narrator's thinking and emotions, the reader is living the narrators story. As it begins to center on other people then it starts to become a series of descriptions and more clinical in nature. Once the narrator becomes nothing more than an outside observer of other people, then the perspective effectively becomes that of third person with a very limited overview.

Third person (he, she, it, etc.) provides an unlimited perspective into people and events to the reader. It is ideal for fast-paced action and painting broad imagery of characters, settings and events beyond what could be achieved through a single set of eyes. Where first person is about internal conflict and discovery, the third person narrative is more suitable for external conflict and broad tapestries of relationships.

The omniscient perspective of third person gives the author the ability to provide the reader insight into what each of their characters is thinking and feeling but as an observer rather than a participant. Though it is slightly less personal, it provides a wider range of emotional conflict through multiple characters and their context within the plot.

Though third person is the most widely used perspective, many first-time authors instinctively write in first person, often to the detriment of the story they are trying to tell. This doesn't mean beginning writers should not use first person in all cases. It does mean they should understand the shortcomings and advantages of each perspective. If a story doesn't play to the strengths of the first person narrative then new authors will generally be better off utilizing third person.


Grammar Girl - first second & third person

Writers Workshop - first person or third

Point of View and Narrative Voice

writersdigest - What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel?

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Max Headroom

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Re: First vs. Third Person Narrative Perspective
« Reply #1 on: 02/26-02:01 »

Most sites just tell you what the forms are from a technical viewpoint, as did the links you provided. Unfortunately, they generally give little guidance as to when they should be used.

This explanation actually makes sense and provides some insight as to what the forms actually get you.
 
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Suzy

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Re: First vs. Third Person Narrative Perspective
« Reply #2 on: 02/26-05:17 »

Most sites just tell you what the forms are from a technical viewpoint, as did the links you provided. Unfortunately, they generally give little guidance as to when they should be used.

This explanation actually makes sense and provides some insight as to what the forms actually get you.
I agree. It is actually rather helpful. 
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The Deposed King

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Re: First vs. Third Person Narrative Perspective
« Reply #3 on: 04/24-03:58 »

I agree. It is actually rather helpful.

1st person lets you get close in and personal really inside the head of the main character as much or as little as you want.  With 3rd you can get almost as close and intimate or you can really zoom out for a dispassionate out of the head space and macro look.

It all depends on what you want.



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Sum0123

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Re: First vs. Third Person Narrative Perspective
« Reply #4 on: 05/04-02:50 »

Many literary classics combine the personal and coming of age aspects of first person to create powerful narratives and characters readers can connect with directly. 'To Kill a Mockingbird`, In this article  Links Title Here you can learn more about this book
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