Forum Friday: First person or third?

Which is your favorite point of view to write: first person or third? (Or second, if you’re into Choose Your Own Adventure. ;)) Which do you find easiest? Most challenging?

What about tense?

What POV and tense combination does your favorite book use?

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26 thoughts on “Forum Friday: First person or third?

  1. I like to write in the present tense, in third person but with snippets of internal character dialogue presented to the reader in the first person. So, like….
    Ruben dropped to his knees.
    *Why did I do that?* he asked himself as the smooth metal of the blade slipped through his fingers.
    🙂

  2. I prefer first-person because it helps me (and the reader!) really get into the head of the character.

    With my WIP, I’ve written different sections in different perspectives (first and third, I mean), which has been difficult. I didn’t really plan to have mixed perspectives, it just happened that way, but now I feel like I need to choose one and edit out the other. I really love both and I like the way they work in different parts of the book, but I don’t think the story works as well as it could with them combined . . . Such a conundrum! I might have to kill some of my darlings 😦

    • I find that the writer’s intuition is usually accurate…so if you’re thinking it’d be better to go one way or the other, that is probably the case! How interesting, though. I’ve never encountered a work where (the writer said) it was written, unintentionally, using a combination of POVs. It sort of sparks my curiosity, actually!

      • Well, I went on a professor’s advice and wrote my WIP in a very messy way. Basically, I just wrote whichever section I was interested in writing that day. Because of that, the sections don’t always seamlessly connect and sometimes I’d get a strong urge to write one in first-person (even though I generally thought the story should be told in third).

        But I’ve come to realize that for me, personally, I write better when I organize the whole story and then write it in order. It was fun writing whichever section I wanted, whenever I wanted, but now I’ve got a whole mess of scenes to weave together! 🙂

        • The whole novel-writing thing is such an experimental process. I think I’m the same– I write better (or at least, more clear-headedly) when I am organized from the start and writing in order!

          Hope your scene-weaving is going well 🙂

  3. I like to write in first-person past tense.

    In reading, I’m fine with third-person and present tense, as long as it’s done well. In general, I feel like the reader should never be aware of the tense while they are reading. If the tense jumps out and detracts from the story, it’s the wrong tense. For contemporary stuff (which I write) first person feels the most natural. In more action packed stories like fantasy/mystery/thriller/etc third person is often needed to show the story from multiple angles.

    • Well said. I think any tense can be the right tense for a given story…provided it is so natural it blends into the background. (I just had an image of a ninja there…tense ninja!)

      Thank you for sharing, Kate! 🙂

  4. I love third person present tense, there’s just something very kinetic and free about it. It’s a rare book that I prefer in first person, I know it’s a growing trend over the last 30 years or so (saw statistic about this not long ago), but it just feels a little claustrophobic and insular to me most of the time unless the protagonist/narrator has a really really interesting interior life.

    • Third person present! Is that a reading or writing preference (or both)? I am trying to think of third person present examples (apart from short stories told in the dramatic perspective) and coming up short…Any books that come to mind off the bat?

      Interesting point about the first person. Yes…I can see how sticking with one narrator’s inner voice could feel constricting. I guess the trick is to make sure it’s a voice you like– or at least, like writing! 😉

      • I love reading it more than writing it (just. I’ve seldom used it when writing, though its often been fun when I have.) John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy is probably the best example I can think of, his (extremely vivid) prose gives those books a special shine. Though he’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

  5. I write best in third person, past tense, with free indirect discourse so I can use my character’s voice at times 🙂

    When reading, I don’t like first person that much but if it’s done well (and in past tense) I can bear it. Second person is okay if it’s done well and it doesn’t go on for too long…

    • Starting to see a theme here. Yes– I think the key for any tense/POV combination is that it’s done well and is right for the story!

      I like third person past, too, for that unique combination of external and internal– though my most recent book is first person present!

      Thanks for sharing, Kyra 🙂

  6. It depends on the story. I go back and forth between the two. I can’t even begin to describe why I pick one over the other, but some stories are meant for first person and others are meant for third person. I think the only way to differentiate is that third person works where you want to be able to get in the heads of more than just the main character.

  7. My first novel was written in First Person and from a female POV, which was a challenge for me as a male to make a sensitive, vulnerable & complicated woman believable. But I’m told it’s worked well.
    My second novel feels like a Third Person POV, but I tweaked some of the narrative to be told from a mysterious First Person, which is my attempt at making a character out of the environment itself (in this case, New York City). I think it works and doesn’t take away from the story.
    But you guys can tell me what you think by reading both of my novels (for free!) on my website: rtimmorris.com
    Thanks!

    • The NYC in the first person! I like it already (and just at the suggestion find myself imagining what that might sound like…).

      Props to you for experimenting– both with environment as character, and getting out of your element to write a first person female POV!

      • Thanks for the boost of confidence! NYC actually sounds alot like a 3rd Person narrative, but it’s more of a 1st Person when it discusses intimate details of my characters and when it their weight on the sidewalks when they’re hitting their rough patches. Kind of like how we feel like we’re sinking into the earth when we’re sad.
        Of course, you can let me know if it works for you by checking The Falling on my site!

  8. This question could not have been more timely– I’ve just gotten edits back from an amazing blogger who is helping me slay a manuscript that I (foolishly) wrote in the present tense. I haven’t even opened his attachment yet but I am so terrified because I know I will have to rewrite the whole thing. *sob*

    • I feel ya! The beta feedback can be super intimidating, but also SO good! So don’t fret– because (as you already know) you will only make the manuscript better! 🙂

      Out of curiosity, what made you change your mind on the tense (that is, rethink the present tense)?

      • Well… it’s actually memoir…. And I like to write in the present tense because I like to feel like I’m telling a story to someone in a pub or something, but– it doesn’t work when you’re telling a story that goes back and forth in time… It’s hard to explain but I knew when I was writing it that it was awkward and though my beta readers didn’t comment on it, the editor definitely did. I haven’t read through his notes yet (waiting to enjoy my weekend first 😉 But then I’ll see what he suggests.

        • I’m totally with you on using present tense to make a story more immediate and real. Though when it’s going back and forth in time that might complicate things…

          Hope the edits are going well! 🙂

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