creative writing, writing

A Lesson in Perspectives

First person or third person? First person or third person? First person or third person? 

This question has been looping around in my mind ever since I began planning my current work in progress, but more than ever this week. I am currently re-writing after completing my first draft and this question has still been bothering me, so it seemed like a good blog topic for this week. (Please note that this post only focuses on first and third person, not second.)

Things to consider when choosing perspective;

1. Who’s telling the story?
When I started planning my novel it was only going to be told from one character’s point of view. And I knew, immediately, that it would be told in first person, present tense. However, as the story progressed I realised that I needed another storyteller in the mix. This is the story teller that’s been given me problems – I couldn’t seem to get it right, in first or third. I think that for any writer, before deciding which style you’re going to be writing in, you need to consider the person telling the story and the voice that they would use.

2. What does the reader need to see?
If you choose to tell the story in first person then you limit what the reader can see, by only following the inner thoughts and view point of one character. If you need the reader to see more than that, then you may need to consider third person instead, as this will allow you to explore different aspects of the story, without directly using or involving your main character. Of course, you can also get around this by including another point of view character, however this can get confusing if you add too many.

3. Can first and third person be used in the same story?
I asked this question over on my instagram page a while back and received mixed answers. Essentially, I was torn because I wanted to tell one character’s side in first person present tense and the other’s in third person past tense. Is this too confusing? I supported this option based on a couple of novels I’d read that did this and it worked so seamlessly I hardly noticed the transition until the end. I think, while this may not be a conventional way to tell a story, that if it works for you then that’s all that matters.

4. Write the same chapter in different perspectives
Eventually, I settled for writing several chapters in both first and third person. In both past and present tense. I considered what felt most natural for me as the writer and the character as a story teller. Then I looked back over them to see which one read the best. Of course, it was the one that had felt the most natural to write. In this case, it was first person present tense, which adds consistency to the telling of both sides of the story.

5. What feels right for you and your characters?
You don’t have to follow the rules. You don’t have to read articles that tell you third person is considered more or less skillful than first, or that your perspective doesn’t match your genre. You just need to write what feels right’ for you and your characters. There are no rules to writing and even if there are, you’re allowed to break them. Tell the story you want to tell, the way you want to tell it. That’s the only way.

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I would really love to hear your thoughts on perspective and any battles you’ve had with it.

Please comment below with your experiences.
Until then,
Keep writing,
M
x

11 thoughts on “A Lesson in Perspectives”

  1. i would go more with #4. I wrote the series i want to debut first on the first person pov, but i have a trilogy on the side that is on the third. they both work for me, but when i began writing the trilogy, first person just didn’t sound good (i tried the first chapter on 1st pov).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A few years back I wrote a rather lengthy Civil War/Reconstruction-era family saga based on real characters and true events (although I liberally “novelized” things). I wound up using three first person-present voices. What I found interesting was that the characters often interacted with one another, and I was thus able to “fill in the blanks” with different perspectives of scenes throughout the book. It worked out quite well for me, and the book was well-received by reviewers (although not very successful sales-wise). At the time, the book was published (because of the wordcount) in two parts (Book One & Book Two). I argued with the publisher that this would likely turn off some readers and harm sales. I was overruled, but my opinion turned out prophetic. I have since retained all rights to the books and hope to have it published in one volume as originally intended.
    I may have swerved off-topic here a bit, but I hope this might prove helpful in your decision. Good luck! 🙂
    –Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hmmm, difficult to say. Usually, for me, a story just naturally goes into either First or Third POV, as originally happened to you. I don’t know that I’ve ever re-thought that choice in a story, though sometimes it has been a challenge to make sure nothing is revealed that a First POV wouldn’t know. And to make known information the reader needs to know. I don’t know that I’ve ever specifically seen both First and Third in a single story. Offhand, the closest I can think of is Harry Potter and that isn’t actually the case there. Most of the books are told from Harry’s POV, though in Third person, so when necessary other info could be shared without violating First POV. I know Rick Riordan in his Heroes of Olympus series went with multiple First POVs, different ones by chapter. They might overlap some of the same ground, but mostly they moved the story forward just in a new POV. There were times when I didn’t consider it done “smoothly”.

    Without specifics, it is difficult to assess your particular challenge, but best of luck in reaching a choice you are comfortable with.

    – Deandra

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post that hits on a very real struggle. I especially love point five. I once had an agent tell me that my third person novel would be better in first person because that’s what they thought was best suited to the genre. I’m not a fan of first person and wasn’t about to change my whole novel when I know that writing it in third person is the best thing for the story and characters. Glad to hear that you have experimented with your book and worked out what is the best way for you, as the author, to write it. That’s what will make it a great story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had this problem whilst doing my nano project! I had one character in first, and then another in third, and a few thousand words in to it, I swapped from third to first because it just felt right! I think you definitely just have to do what you feel is right, and it’ll make it easier for you in the long run too!
    I also a read a series of books – House of Night – that has the main character in first, and then, when a chapter focuses on another characters, its in third. It worked really well and I hardly noticed it!
    Loved your post too!

    Liked by 1 person

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