Author Topic: First Person or Third?  (Read 796 times)  

Offline Thame

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First Person or Third?
« on: May 19, 2017, 08:11:28 AM »
I've started and restarted writing my Science Fiction novel twice now. I can't seem to decide which POV to use. What do you guys use? First of third?

Offline Dan C. Rinnert

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2017, 08:16:11 AM »
First of third?

Is First of Third an adjunct to Unimatrix Zero?  ;)

I prefer third person, but I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, so you might want to go with first person which seems to be the rage these days.
       
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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2017, 08:22:44 AM »
I think this is down to personal taste more than anything. I can only write in third, and it's by far what I prefer to read. First makes it very difficult for me to get engaged as I personally find it very awkward and sort of silly sounding. But I feel like I might be a minority in that.
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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2017, 08:25:42 AM »
I usually write third person, but in my Scottish romance there are a few chapters that are first person.  It was an experiment and did the job of allowing the characters to tell their story, rather than the narrator explaining their background.  I haven't had any complaints and I liked the way it turned out.
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Offline Thame

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2017, 08:30:54 AM »
Is First of Third an adjunct to Unimatrix Zero?  ;)

Nice catch! LOL!  :)

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2017, 08:40:39 AM »
I generally prefer third, but I did read today that younger audiences tend to be able to relate to first person with greater ease.

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2017, 08:47:17 AM »
I've written in first present and past, in third past, and in omniscient third past. It depends on what the story calls for. I find exposition is easier in third, and easier still in omniscient third, although omni presents unique challenges, especially if you're toggling between omni and close.

The challenge in first is you have to work out how the character(s) obtain information about things they didn't witness personally. Big battle scenes, for instance, are extremely difficult unless they're describing something from a historical perspective. And "what i learned later was..." is a narrative trick that should be employed only sparingly, if at all.

The challenge of third is it's slightly more distancing, and if you're going from more than one POV, you have to tailor the observations in close third to the character.

Omniscient has few restrictions, but also is extremely distancing. I use it mostly for humorous effect.

Offline Lummox JR

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2017, 08:47:43 AM »
Go with what feels natural for the story. My first two books are in first person; the newest (released today!) is in third limited, but doesn't shift to another character's POV at any point.

For the first two books, the factors that pushed me to use first person were, respectively, 1) considerable introspection and a lot of inner dialogue, getting deep inside the MC's head, and 2) a sense of sanity slippage and feeling overwhelmed (and greatly annoyed) by the insane, hectic events swirling around the MC. Third person wouldn't have felt right for either case. With the third book (these are not connected to one another), while it's not quite epic fantasy I wanted to have more of an epic fantasy voice, which pulled towards third person, and also the way scenery and such are described seemed best suited for that perspective.

If it's done right, first person plugs the reader more firmly into the MC's mindset and can make their shared experience feel slightly more intimate. It's also a good idea if the narrator is unreliable, because with first person you feel more that the story is being filtered through one person's perceptions, much better that third person limited doesn't convey. Third person can pull a reader more into the grand story, and give them a little more trust in the narrator, even if the perspective never changes from a single character.

From the sound of things I gather you have a strong single-MC perspective, so the question is mainly what kind of tone and mindset you want, and how closely you want the reader to both identify with and question their thoughts and motives. I think you'll find that if you firmly know what tone you want, the choice of first or third is a much easier one.
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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2017, 08:59:07 AM »
IThe challenge of third is it's slightly more distancing

I'm not so sure of that. With first-person, I know that I am not 'I', so I'm already distanced from that character. And the writer can hide information from me more easily. In particular, a first person narrator is far more likely to be an unreliable narrator than third person... I don't think I've ever seen a novel with an unreliable third-person narrator.

Really, the choice depends on the story and genre. It's never one-size-fits-all.

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #9 on: May 19, 2017, 10:16:26 AM »
I'm not so sure of that. With first-person, I know that I am not 'I', so I'm already distanced from that character. And the writer can hide information from me more easily. In particular, a first person narrator is far more likely to be an unreliable narrator than third person... I don't think I've ever seen a novel with an unreliable third-person narrator.

Really, the choice depends on the story and genre. It's never one-size-fits-all.

I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying this as a writer or as a reader? The first-person perspective isn't there to convince the reader they're reading something they wrote themselves, so "With first-person, I know that I am not 'I', so I'm already distanced from that character" doesn't make any sense. If you're speaking as a writer... I mean, I don't know. I've written first person as a sixty-thousand year old man named Adam, and when I write as Adam, i sort of think like him.

Also, unreliable first-person narration is a feature of storytelling, not a defect.

Offline ShayneRutherford

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #10 on: May 19, 2017, 10:28:00 AM »
I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying this as a writer or as a reader? The first-person perspective isn't there to convince the reader they're reading something they wrote themselves, so "With first-person, I know that I am not 'I', so I'm already distanced from that character" doesn't make any sense. If you're speaking as a writer... I mean, I don't know. I've written first person as a sixty-thousand year old man named Adam, and when I write as Adam, i sort of think like him.

Also, unreliable first-person narration is a feature of storytelling, not a defect.

I feel the same as Edward, when he says that he knows he's not the 'I' in the story. When I read third person I find it easy to slip into the character, to put myself in their place. But with third person, because of the 'I do this' and 'I do that' stuff, I'm constantly being reminded that someone is telling me the story, which prevents me from being able to put myself in their place.
     

Offline Thame

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #11 on: May 19, 2017, 10:52:28 AM »
Well here's part of my problem. When I'm telling the story in first person, I find it easier to tell the story as if these are the things I'm seeing. These are the things I feel. These are the things I can share with you, because, dear reader, I was there and this is how it happened.

Here, take this excerpt from Starship Troopers for example:

Quote
I always get the shakes before a drop. I've had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and it stands to reason that I can't really be afraid. The ship's psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn't fear, it isn't anything important - it's just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate. I couldn't say about that; I've never been a race horse. But the fact is: I'm scared silly, every time.

Is it possible to find a happy middle ground with internal monologues?

Offline ShayneRutherford

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #12 on: May 19, 2017, 10:55:51 AM »
Well here's part of my problem. When I'm telling the story in first person, I find it easier to tell the story as if these are the things I'm seeing. These are the things I feel. These are the things I can share with you, because, dear reader, I was there and this is how it happened.

Is it possible to find a happy middle ground with internal monologues?

What do you mean by a happy middle ground?
     

Offline BrianDHoward

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2017, 11:02:25 AM »
In most instances, I prefer writing close third with a limited number of POV characters (2-4). Third lets me get the reader inside an antagonist's head.

But I think which to use can depend. Which supports the story better? Which helps show the character's growth and development better? Are there things the antagonist is doing that the reader needs to or should see? Towards the end of a list of considerations might be genre expectations.
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Offline Thame

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2017, 11:09:45 AM »
What do you mean by a happy middle ground?

Tell the story in third person, but at times switch to an internal monologue by the main character when there is no action going on.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2017, 11:13:09 AM by Thame »

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #15 on: May 19, 2017, 11:12:58 AM »
I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying this as a writer or as a reader? The first-person perspective isn't there to convince the reader they're reading something they wrote themselves, so "With first-person, I know that I am not 'I', so I'm already distanced from that character" doesn't make any sense.

As a reader, the 'I' in the book is not my I, therefore I'm inherently distanced from the character in the book.

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #16 on: May 19, 2017, 11:37:54 AM »
As a reader, the 'I' in the book is not my I, therefore I'm inherently distanced from the character in the book.

But you're not in third person?

I'm not trying to be a pain about this, I'm legitimately surprised by this notion. All writing is the author telling a story to a reader, whether the author is a character in a book or not. Unless we're talking about Virginia Woolf or (to an extent) Faulkner, nobody's writing fully immersive fiction. The artifice of being told a story is always there.


ETA: Is it that you can't identify with a character in first person because the author has already done it themselves?

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #17 on: May 19, 2017, 12:09:27 PM »
But you're not in third person?

I'm not trying to be a pain about this, I'm legitimately surprised by this notion. All writing is the author telling a story to a reader, whether the author is a character in a book or not. Unless we're talking about Virginia Woolf or (to an extent) Faulkner, nobody's writing fully immersive fiction. The artifice of being told a story is always there.


ETA: Is it that you can't identify with a character in first person because the author has already done it themselves?

I feel the same way: first person (repetitive "I") would pull me out of the story but third person wouldn't.

I guess because with third person, I feel as though I'm following along and witnessing what's going on. But with first person, the constant "I" feels more like the character is speaking to me directly and telling me what happened. It can be jarring.

In my critique group, I read a chapter written in first person and at first it was annoying, but once I got lost in the story, it didn't bother me so much.

I suppose that's the key to any good story: if it's written well, the reader can forgive a multitude of sins.

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Offline Cheryl Douglas

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #18 on: May 19, 2017, 12:19:59 PM »
I've written alot of books in both first and third and I prefer first these days. It makes it easier for me to connect with the characters and all of the feedback from readers has been positive so I trust they agree. I'm sure I will go back to third someday though, when I need a change.

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #19 on: May 19, 2017, 12:31:42 PM »
I've started and restarted writing my Science Fiction novel twice now. I can't seem to decide which POV to use. What do you guys use? First of third?

If you're unsure, use third person, past tense. You minimize your chances of alienating readers by your POV choice.

Any deviation from that should be for a reason the author clearly understands going in is right for the story.

(I write interchangeably between first and third. Almost always past tense.)
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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #20 on: May 19, 2017, 12:32:49 PM »
I'm writing this reply while the original very posh series of the The Avengers is on TV. Reminds me that I was so poor at writing first person present because I baulked at writing "I say" as a dialogue tag as it reminded me too much of posh British TV.

If you struggle to write the novel in first then readers are likely to struggle to read your novel in first. There is usually a way to work something you want conveyed in internal dialogue in a scene, usually through dialogue. My debut novel was third person with large amounts of internal dialogue, but it was literary mental health fiction so not in the same ballpark as what you are looking for. Ultimately I write in third person because I'm not that good at writing first because I'm not overly into reading first.


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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #21 on: May 19, 2017, 12:48:24 PM »
Whatever you choose, stick with it. I wrote an entire book in third person, then decided I didn't like it and changed it to first person. OMG, that was the biggest undertaking of my life. I spent one whole week trying to get all the pronouns and stuff right. Never again.

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Offline ShayneRutherford

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #22 on: May 19, 2017, 12:49:23 PM »
But you're not in third person?

ETA: Is it that you can't identify with a character in first person because the author has already done it themselves?

Yes, exactly. The author has taken that character over themselves, so I no longer can. Which means I know going in that I'll be missing out on part of the experience that I enjoy.
     

Offline Joseph Malik

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #23 on: May 19, 2017, 02:18:25 PM »
Which first and which third?

If you're going first person, are you doing subjective narration, interior monologue (with or without stream of consciousness), memoir, or objective autobiography?

If you're going third person, do you want to write in limited or omniscient? If omniscient, who is your narrator and how close are they to the story? How is the opacity of the narrative going to affect your allegory vis a vis the contingencies of your rhetoric? Are you going to be a total literary baller and shoot for framed narrative? (Somebody please do this; I would read the [crap] out of a sci-fi or fantasy written in framed narrative.) Or are you just going to bang it out as fast as you can and fall back on dramatic objective third? (Please don't.)

What I'm getting at, here, is that once you determine your POV, you have to drill down on voice, where there are a lot of other considerations beyond "first" and "third." And not understanding the deeper levels to voice could very well be why you've had to start your novel twice. It may not sound right in either POV until you determine which voice you want to use within the POV. Voice comes with reading and deconstruction. Find what you like, and then figure out how they did it.

There's a blog post on my site about POV versus voice; I wrote it just yesterday. The link is in my sig. Adult content warning: profanity, literary theory. And seriously, hit me offline if you have any questions. I'm glad to help.

Well here's part of my problem. When I'm telling the story in first person, I find it easier to tell the story as if these are the things I'm seeing. These are the things I feel. These are the things I can share with you, because, dear reader, I was there and this is how it happened.

Okay. No joke: I think you need to look at third omniscient.

Omniscient is an advanced style that resides in the meta, meaning you're not writing your story, you're writing about your story. It involves creating a narrator as an extra character and telling the story through his observations, using his voice. Omniscient is a friend with a drink in his hand, sitting on your couch, telling you a story. Sometimes he uses his own voice, and every now and again he stands up and does impressions. Those impressions are your narrative shifts (what authors call "POV shifts," but they're not; you're not shifting from first to third person). I think that's where you want to go with this, if I'm understanding you right.

My series is told in omniscient third, from the perspective of a fictional narrator who has been to the world where it all happens, and knows the story and the characters personally. He never once drops into first person, though; he never says, "When the prince and I had a beer last week, he showed me around his apartment at the palace," or whatever. You just get the sense, from the way he tells the story, that he's been there and knows all of this. His voice (his character voice) is distinct from the other characters, and it colors the other characters' voices and their observations; like I said, I think of it as doing impressions. That's what you're shooting for in omniscient third.

Omniscient third is really tough. It takes a lot of fiddling, it writes slow because you have to have distinct voices for all your characters and another for your narrator and you can't half-ass your character voices; you end up picking through every single sentence and piece of dialogue to make them all line up and ensure that nobody is speaking or thinking or reacting in someone else's voice. And you also need to find an editor who remembers that omniscient third even exists. It's not used much anymore, and it's hardly used at all in indie fiction, likely because it's agonizingly slow. (WAY faster to write in tight third where every chapter / scene is from one character.) But man, omniscient tells a great story when you get it dialed in.

Again, hit me up if you need resources on this.
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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #24 on: May 19, 2017, 02:30:35 PM »
Framed narrative...okay I'm still a newbie, but would an example be the movie The Princess Bride?  I haven't (gasp!) read the book.
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Offline Joseph Malik

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #25 on: May 19, 2017, 02:42:09 PM »
Framed narrative...okay I'm still a newbie, but would an example be the movie The Princess Bride?  I haven't (gasp!) read the book.

Frankenstein. Stories inside stories. The Princess Bride is written in Omniscient Third with an opaque, character-driven narrator.
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Offline March

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #26 on: May 19, 2017, 02:51:51 PM »
Have you browsed through best seller lists to see if one is more common than the other within your sub-genre? If you feel equally game for either, you may want to defer to what your target readers prefer. I would imagine that by and large third is the preference, but YA might swing more towards first.

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #27 on: May 19, 2017, 03:32:46 PM »
Frankenstein. Stories inside stories. The Princess Bride is written in Omniscient Third with an opaque, character-driven narrator.

I do that in Unfiction. Portions of the book are stories written by a character in the book.

Offline Abalone

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #28 on: May 19, 2017, 03:37:54 PM »
Depends on the storyline and the market.

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #29 on: May 19, 2017, 05:34:12 PM »
Is First of Third an adjunct to Unimatrix Zero?  ;)

I think it's related to Seven of Nine.  Or something.   :P





To answer the OP's question, it depends on the nature of the story.  Can you effectively tell the whole story from a single character's point of view?  If not, then third-person is probably what you want.

For the record, I like both equally, and I write in both, so I have no bias in either direction.

The thing to keep in mind is "available information."  Think about how much information is going to be available to the main character.  Also take into account the tone of the story (first-person tends to be more informal, for example) and which method is easier for you to write in.  But the "available information" thing is the first criterion you should consider, because that's what determines whether the story will hold up in first-person or fall apart.

Anyway, just my two cents.  Good luck.  :)

Stories inside stories.

Rothfuss does that in The Name of the Wind.  He starts in third-person as a framing device, then switches to first-person for the bulk of the novel.  It's a time-tested and effective method, and one I'd like to try some day.
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Offline Kal241

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #30 on: May 19, 2017, 05:42:46 PM »
I mix the two; third-person for the main content, first-person in italics for the character's thoughts.

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Offline Joseph Malik

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #31 on: May 19, 2017, 06:44:16 PM »
Have you browsed through best seller lists to see if one is more common than the other within your sub-genre? If you feel equally game for either, you may want to defer to what your target readers prefer. I would imagine that by and large third is the preference, but YA might swing more towards first.

Respectfully, I beg to differ, here, but it's not a "one or the other" proposition. There are many different types of each POV. The trick is to figure out what voice inside your chosen POV tells the story best. The problem the OP is having is not a POV problem. It's a voice problem. To solve it, he has to delineate the voice within the point of view.

There are four common forms of first-person POV: subjective narration, interior monologue, memoir, and objective autobiography. There are two common forms of third-person POV: limited and omniscient, and other, lesser-known forms, including framed narrative and dramatic objective. They each tell the story differently. Each also has its own rules, which you can break or bend to different extents. And it's not a matter so much of sticking to the rules of each, but of knowing what they sound like and what they convey, so that they allow you to develop a framework that tells the story the way you want to tell it.

Rothfuss does that in The Name of the Wind.  He starts in third-person as a framing device, then switches to first-person for the bulk of the novel.  It's a time-tested and effective method, and one I'd like to try some day.

I totally spaced this. Yes, he does. It's a very cool device.

I do that in Unfiction. Portions of the book are stories written by a character in the book.
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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #32 on: May 19, 2017, 06:53:10 PM »
Man: I want to know about first person.
Woman: The woman standing before you?
Man: Yeah. I want to know.
Woman: She's writing third.
Man: No, I want first.
Woman: Third's all that she can do.
Man: I thought that you said that you were first?
Woman: She never said that she was first.
Man: But you just did.


There's a joke there somewhere if someone can figure out the beat.

Disclaimer: I sell horribly. Set your filters accordingly.

Offline Jack Krenneck

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #33 on: May 19, 2017, 06:55:06 PM »
Have you browsed through best seller lists to see if one is more common than the other within your sub-genre? If you feel equally game for either, you may want to defer to what your target readers prefer. I would imagine that by and large third is the preference, but YA might swing more towards first.

This. Exactly this.


Online GeneDoucette

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #34 on: May 19, 2017, 07:13:00 PM »

Offline Jeff Tanyard

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Re: First Person or Third?
« Reply #35 on: May 19, 2017, 07:26:18 PM »
You just made a sale, my friend.

 :)  You're a good guy, Joe.

Man: I want to know about first person.
Woman: The woman standing before you?
Man: Yeah. I want to know.
Woman: She's writing third.
Man: No, I want first.
Woman: Third's all that she can do.
Man: I thought that you said that you were first?
Woman: She never said that she was first.
Man: But you just did.


There's a joke there somewhere if someone can figure out the beat.


Continued...

Woman: Nope.  And now you're second.
Man: And so are you.
Woman: But you're still not first.
Man: :(
Jeff Tanyard | Author Website