Third Person Versus First Person

Sometimes, I say advice with some authority.

This is not one of those times.

I came across an article recently that said third person, past tense, was the best option.

Now, I have a bit of a problem with this because I happen to like writing in the first person.

Sure, you can jump into the head of a character with other techniques—but there is no “deeper” way than having their entire perspective at your fingertips.

But that doesn’t make the other options bad. In fact, I think they all are best treated as tools, with different uses for each.

So, instead of an argument, I thought I’d just go over the main factors that help me decide.

I’ll use the third person if I need:

  • The reader not knowing what a character is thinking.
  • To have a larger cast of characters all interacting with each other at once.
  • To be able to do more detailed descriptions.
  • To be able to kill the main character without ending the story.

I’ll use the first person if I need:

  • The story to have a heavier cerebral aspect.
  • To make a personal story to only one character.
  • To not let the readers know how a character looks.

And as to time, here’s where I stand on the past or present.

Past tense:

  • Makes the story feel more like a story.
  • Adds a sense of an unchanging outcome.
  • It’s standard and what readers expect, which makes it easier to read.

Present tense:

  • Makes the story feel more immediate.
  • Makes the fate of the narrator more questionable.

And those are just some of the things I think about when I choose. And they don’t always even fit in with what I said.

It’s an odd duck this. But a decision we all have to make.

Special thanks to: Bob GerkinCollin PearmanDylan AlexanderJerry BanfieldMichael The Comic Nerd,  Pulsatilla Pratensis, and Thomas J. West.

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