Monday, November 2, 2015

First or Third Person? Which One Is Better

Here is a question that I am frequently asked at conferences. "So Scott...Which do you prefer in your stories? First or third person?" Well, like everything out there, the answer is simple. It all depends.

What authors fail to realize is that the story itself dictates whether it should be told in first or third person. You don't start off saying you are going to tell a story in first person and then try to create it. The story comes first.

I would also say that far too many authors out there seem to think that specific genres are "always" told in first or third person. Again, this is a myth. Yes, there might be a lot of stories told in one particular voice, but there is not rule out there that dictates what voice you should use.

I have also heard a lot of authors say it is easier to tell a story in first person. I can see why they say this. When you tell a story in first person, you are living in almost 100% dialogue mode. Either the characters are talking to each other or the characters are talking to themselves. The problem, however, is that when you do take this approach, a lot of the depth of the story disappears that would normally come from the narration or the differing points of view in a story.

One of the things that authors need to recognize is that there are indeed limitations to telling a story in first person. Think about it this way. When you come home after a hard day of work, do you narrate in your head the full surroundings of your home. Do you consider the fabric on the sofa in the living room, the color of the hardwood floors with the reflection of the evening sun. Do you stop and look at the pictures on the wall and think of the family history? Probably not! So, when you have a character start to do this in first person, it really comes across as being a bit forced.

Now, I do understand, many people feel that third person stories tend to get bogged down in world-building, information dumps and long narrations. This is only happening because the author is doing it. You don't need to go for large blocks of time with that narration. Control yourself. It really isn't that hard if you pay attention.

I will openly state that I am not a big fan of first person. This is not to say that I will always reject stories told in first person. The issue is really about the execution of the story. Far too often, writers put their stories in first person and the story ends up flat. The story lacks the depth I am looking for in the story, and most of that comes from the character development. We just don't get enough.

So, in answer to that age old question - I will again answer with, "It all depends." Just remember that the story itself dictates the structure and not the reverse.

1 comment:

  1. Very reassuring advice. I agree that the story dictates how it wants to be told. I recently started a story in 3rd person and it just wasn't moving until I switched to 1st person. I've had just the opposite happen too.