It’s funny how this whole 3rd Person vs. 1st Person debate can give novel writing beginners such problems.
The chances are that you could write two versions of a novel – one in 3rd person point of view, the other in 1st – and both would turn out fine. They’d just be different.
And the beauty of fiction writing is that you can always change your mind.
The great American novelist John Irving (I’m a fan, in case you were wondering) initially wrote Until I Find You in the first person. He didn’t change it to third person point of view until a much later draft. And Until I Find You is over 1,000 pages long!
The purpose of this summary article is to help you make up your mind once and for all.
So Which Viewpoint Is Best?
If you think I’m trying to persuade any fence-sitters out there to jump down on the third person side, you’re not far wrong.
Taking all of the arguments into consideration, they stack up in favor of using 3rd person point of view. Almost overwhelmingly so. Here’s why…
First person point of view is generally considered to be the easier viewpoint to handle, but it simply isn’t so. Once you’ve mastered the theory behind each viewpoint, there’s nothing difficult about either of them.
First person is certainly more intimate than third person. But it’s possible to virtually replicate this intimacy in third person prose.
Third person is more immediate than 1st person. Even using the past tense doesn’t destroy this illusion of being rooted in the here and now. (But this advantage really isn’t a deal-breaker if you want to write a first person novel.)
Third person isn’t claustrophobic like first person can be. And it’s more objective, too, presenting a more rounded portrait of the central character.
Most important of all, using third person point of view gives you the greatest freedom as a storyteller. How come? Because you can move the “camera” around a lot more than in first person prose (where the camera is stuck behind the viewpoint character’s eyes all the way through).
Is Using First Person a Bad Idea?
Absolutely not. Sometimes, writing in first person will be exactly the right choice for a novel. It’s like James N. Frey said…
With whatever viewpoint and voice you choose, you should exploit the possibilities of the viewpoint and voice you have chosen rather than feel constrained by its limitations.
Does your viewpoint character have a compelling voice and a unique way of looking at the world – like Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn? First person point of view is the viewpoint for you!
Or perhaps you really don’t care about all this “moving the camera around” business and simply want to tell an intimate story through one pair of first person eyes.
Whatever your reasons for choosing first person might be, if you truly believe it’s the best way to tell your story, you must follow your instincts.
So long as you are aware of the limitations of the voice, and you’re happy to work within those limitations, you will be fine.
But if you’re unsure of which viewpoint to use? If you can see your novel working equally well (just differently) in both first and third person? Then my advice would be to go with third person point of view.
Why? Whereas a large majority of novels written by beginners use the first person viewpoint, a large majority of published novels are written in third person point of view.