Writing Wednesdays: Should you write in first or third person

Voice is important to any novel. In this post, I offer some advice to help you decide whether to write in first or third person.

Some people find this second nature. Others struggle. Hopefully, for those of you who aren’t sure if you should be writing in first or third person, this post will help you decide.

A brief prelude to the post: what the hell is first or third person?

I’ve put together this handy-dandy infographic to help you out there. If you didn’t know before, that should help you know now, so you can read the rest of the post and get what’s going on.

First or third person? Here's a handy guide to just what those things mean.

The first thing to say is that there is no right or wrong answer.

At the end of the day, this is completely your decision.

Part of it is whatever feels comfortable.

If I’m writing YA, I prefer first person. If I’m writing fanfic or historical fiction, I tend to use third person. If you’re writing in third person but keep slipping into ‘I’ and ‘me’, then maybe you should switch to first person.

Part of it depends on who your protagonist is – or who your protagonists are.

If you have multiple protagonists in your novel, you might choose third person so that you can switch between POV more easily. If you’re using first person, at least make it clear whose POV the reader is reading.

For instance, my current Wattpad WIP for The Cheaters Club, Betting Boy, is told through both Kian and Isabelle’s POVs. They switch each chapter, and each chapter is titled ‘Chapter one – Isabelle’, or whatever the equivalent is.

Do you want your readers to know more than your protagonist?

Third person is usually better for this. If you want your readers to have a little inside knowledge, and know something the protagonist doesn’t know, third person lets you do this more easily. You can switch the focus to other characters if you want/need to more easily.

Otherwise, you might choose to just use a prologue – or maybe your protag has prophetic dreams that they never remember.

Think of it this way: if Harry Potter were told through only first person, would we have had those opening chapters in GoF or HBP (where Frank is killed by the husk of Lord Voldemort, pre-body, and where Snape makes the Unbreakable Vow)?

Those chapters are told through Frank and Narcissa’s POVs respectively (as I recall, anyway). They’re all in third person, and when we go back to Harry’s POV we have a little inside knowledge when Harry doesn’t, and there’s no confusion as to who we’re reading about.

If you’re still feeling lost, I recommend having a go with your story and trying out both.

Like I said: it’s your decision, ultimately, and a big factor is whatever feels most comfortable. So if you’re ready to write and the big thing stopping you is which person to write in, just forget about it.

You might like this post on how to write when your confidence is rock-bottom.

Jump in and start writing. 

Pick one to start with and see how it goes. If it doesn’t feel like it’s working, open a new document and try it a different way.

And a little note on second person…

I used this in one short story I wrote earlier this year, but that’s the first time I used it. Lucy Christopher did an incredible job of using second person in her novel Stolen: the story of a young girl, abducted, is told through the protagonist’s point of view (POV), but is told as if she’s speaking to her kidnapper. I’d seriously recommend checking it out, if you haven’t read it, by the way.

So there’s nothing stopping you from using second person either, just for the record!

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