Perspective is always a major portion of the creative writing process. The scope, or Point of View, of a story can make or break the novel, it can set up the entire story, it can eliminate and add to the way a tale is written. So, which to choose? First person? Third Person? Second Person? No, I'm just kidding! Unless you're up for a challenge (a near impossible challenge), or a letter, then I'd stray away from that Second Person.
So, I guess the question is, First or Third Person?
Well, I'm going to run through some scenarios of each in order to help you figure out which eye(s) your story should look through. Bear in mind, I have tampered in all!
First Person: Single Character
First Person, in case you need to be reminded, is the persona of the renowned pronoun I. This enables you to pick a single character in which to base your entire story around. Whichever character you choose (this being typically the main character) is the eyes to which the reader will see your story! Now, this is a type of writing style that many great writers have used, and it is a style many readers enjoy diving into because it lets them see the story as if they were the character. Catching my drift?
It's easier to write in this way because of a few reasons:
1. You get to experience the events, relationships, emotions, thoughts, etc. of your character as if YOU were the character! Isn't that great? You get to be someone else for a while!
2. You can dive deeper into the very depths of your main character. This establishes that personal connection between a writer, a character, and a reader. You can dapple into the character's past and into his/her hopes for the future. You can reveal his/her greatest fears and greatest joys and why! You can literally open the heart, mind, and soul of your character to the pages of your story!
3. It makes things less confusing. Sometimes being shackled to a single perspective helps untangle some confusion. It helps that you have a single character to stay anchored to so that you're not distracted by some other mess going on in the background. It can also enable that mystery side of things, keeping your readers in the dark about future plot twists. If your character has yet to figure things out, why shouldn't your readers?
Now, as fun as First Person: Single Character is, there are some drawbacks as well. Again, since you are shackled to one character, that means you have boundaries. You must STAY rooted to that character, you can't reveal things that your character doesn't know unless you want your character to find out. You have to be creative with your sentence structure, not using too many Is or Mes. And sometimes you have to be extremely careful with explaining things without it seeming like a information guide; keeping in character without seeming like a textbook. And descriptions, unless your character is looking in a mirror, are really difficult. You can't just say "I have eyes as blue as the sea", because who in their right mind (unless you're Gaston from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast) is going to say that about themselves? Unless your character looks in the mirror and has a high self esteem or a vain personality, he/she is not going to know that he/she has eyes as blue as the sea!
Here are a few books that have done First Person: Single Character very well:
Golden by Cameron Dokey
The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
The Tigers' Curse series by Colleen Houck
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Tiger Lily by Cassandra Morris
First Person: Multiple Characters
Like the previous perspective, this one is First Person, so it does involve a lot of Is. However, this persona is different, because this involves more than one perspective. You can switch your view between two or three or even five characters within one story. Personally, I've used only two characters thus far, and that's probably the most popular number to use. However, it is possible to do more than that. Readers like these stories because it gives them a broader sense of the story, more than just one pair of eyes to see it through. Sometimes we like having some new perspectives on a tale, getting a taste of each.
Here are a few reasons why this method of writing is beneficial:
1. It enables you to get down and personal with more than just one character! It's like with the previous perspective, but with more characters to mess with. When one character is, say, not doing much, it's easy to switch to the other character. Or you could leave the readers hanging by switching the Point of View in an intense part!
2. This broadens the story. With multiple characters, you can see more of what's going on behind the scenes. You can get a look at other characters from a different perspective, and you can say what characters look like in someone else's eyes.
3. It still keeps things less confusing. Like with First Person: Single Character, your reader is going to still understand what's going on in the perspective of the characters. Rather than being shackled to one character, you're shackled to a few more. You've still got your basis going on.
This perspective does have drawbacks as well. A lot of the disadvantages are the same as First Person: Single Character. You still have to watch the sentence structure and repetitive Is and Mes, you're still attached to whichever characters you pick, and you've got to still watch those explanations (though they should come easier with multiple eyes). In addition, you have to be careful that you're not jumping heads too much. Pace your Point Of Views carefully, and don't use them as an excuse to leave things out.
Here are a few books that have done First Person: Multiple Characters beautifully:
The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson
The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors
Ever by Gail Carson Levine
The Kane Chronicles series by Rick Riordan
Third Person: Single Character
Recently, I've noticed this to be a very popular choice among Young Adult novels, as well as others. Third Person: Single Character is pretty much the same as with First Person: Single Character except you get to use the character's name instead of I. It's a way to feel connected to your character but be reminded that he/she isn't you, but someone else. A lot of readers like this form of writing because of this, too... plus it helps keep the character's name in mind.
Here are a few reasons why this is a great way to write:
1. As stated previously, it does help remind the readers what the character's name is right off the bat. It keeps the character memorable. You still have that connection and insight, but also have the detachable emotion to it. Which leads me to my next point...
2. Because you have that connection and yet not, it's easier to describe emotions and feelings for the character to experience. Instead of saying "I felt pain explode at the back of my skull, spots growing before my eyes. Somewhere, I heard a roar, and then I felt nothing", say "Pain erupted in the back of his head, and Saphira roared. Then Eragon toppled to the ground, unconscious" (This quote is from Christopher Paolini's book, Eragon, page 263). See, it can help cut some of the unnecessary details if you use Third Person: Single Character.
3. If you happen to cross a plot twist or ending in which, say, you kill off your main character-- something that many of your readers will probably hate you for, but hey, it happens!-- with Third Person, it makes it easy to kill your character without having to try and explain the prospects of death! And, it helps with the aftereffects. You can go ahead and move on to the next scene after your leading fellow/lady has died. Maybe explain what happens to your secondary characters? Maybe show the funeral? Whatever it is, if your going to end with a main character's death, try Third Person. That way, you don't have to say "And I then died."
Now, a lot of the disadvantages to this method are the same as First Person: Single Character, but I'll just list a few. When writing this way, it is easy to jump heads, or switch to Third Person: Multiple Characters. Remember, you're still in one head, but you're using a name instead of I. If you do end up killing your main character in the end and you want to say what happens afterwards to everyone else, make the transition smooth. Maybe add the aftereffects in an epilogue. And don't use the easy excuse to not explain things because you're using third person. Description, good description, is still apart of writing. You can't get away from it.
Here are a few books that have done Third Person: Single Character excellently:
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
The Maze Runner series by James Dashner
Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M. M. Blume
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Third Person: Multiple Characters
Now, in this perspective, there are a lot of ways to go about it. Most older tales, fairy tales, or stories with a whole cast of characters use this method of storytelling, because it enables you to be in more than one head, more than one place, and even more than one time. Sometimes, writers will select certain characters to dive into in a book, others will go into more of a storytelling rout. Dive into a few heads or even just record the story as if the reader were observing it from the side. This is a great perspective, but it can also be a damaging perspective.
Here are a few reasons why Third Person: Multiple Characters is a great fit:
1. It gives you more freedom. You can hop into one character for a few pages, then move on the the next. You can zoom in on one spot where the fields are being planted with the new year's crops, then flash over to the battle waging on the other side of the country. It's a very free-range way to write, but with so much freedom, you might have to develop your own pattern.
2. The reader and writer know more about the story than the characters themselves. This is good for drama. You want your readers to get a little antsy at times, maybe scream to your characters "IT'S A TRAP!!!" That's good, you've got them engaged. Just make sure your readers don't know more about your book than you do.
3. With head hopping, you can explore more of your character's minds. Don't you want to dabble into the villain's head? What about the child who saw their favorite superhero walk by? Or the dog who's been hunting rabbits all day and finally gets to nap by the warm hearth of the fire? It's kind of fun to head hop, just don't get too crazy!
With so much freedom, it's very possible to make a sloppy novel, though. For example, as fun as head hopping is, you can't go crazy with it because then you're leaving your readers confused. "Whose perspective am I in now?" Not good. Also, if you decide to do Third Person: Multiple Characters, develop your own pattern. In Rick Riordan's book series, The Heroes of Olympus, he had a few characters selected per book to go into and then switched between them every few chapters. C. S. Lewis went the more storytelling rout in The Chronicles of Narnia where he recorded it as if he were there observing it all, but also dabbled into some of the character's minds and emotions. Find your pattern and roll with it.
Here are some books that have done Third Person: Multiple Characters exquisitely:
The InkWorld series by Cornelia Funke
The Kingdom Keepers series by Ridley Pearson
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
The Beast Within by Serena Valentino
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
These are only a few ways to write, so don't limit yourself to a box. Take a basic basis to go on and experiment with it. Try different things out. Maybe write one story in First Person: Single Character and another story in Third Person: Multiple Characters. Personally, I've experienced with most of these. My soon-to-be debut novel, Heart of a Lion, is written in First Person: Multiple, my first series is in Third Person: Multiple, a new series I'm messing with is in First Person: Single, and I've got several ideas that could end up Third Person: Single! So don't feel like you have to commit to one style of writing for every book you write! Get a feel for what you like and roll with it.
I hope this helps you decide which perspective to use in your stories!
Which perspective do you most like to use? Is there a writing style you've come to adapt that isn't one of the ones I've mentioned? Any specific books you've come to enjoy that incorporates these styles? Leave a comment below! I'd love to hear what you have to say!
Thanks for reading!
Emory R. Frie
"Stories help us remember what we never want to forget" - Neverland (The Realms Series, Book Two)
Emory R. Frie is the award-winning author of debut novel, Heart of a Lion, and the Realms Series. Emory is attending Berry College to further pursue her writing craft. Raised in Oregon, she now lives in Georgia with her family and rambunctious Scottie pup.