First person vs. third person limited

Current word count: 29,056

New words written: 541

Words til goal: 10,944 / 332 words a day til the end of September

Writing was a bit slow this morning, and just when I was getting somewhere, my hour was up. But I’ve put in notes so I can get started more quickly tomorrow.

I caught up on some blog reading yesterday and found Brittany Lary’s  Point of View post on the Four Corners Writer’s Group blog. She ponders first person and third person and asks how readers decided which format to use for their books. Like most of the commentors on her post, I think the story and characters dictate which to write in. Both my first novel and my current novel are in third person limited, but that’s how the stories came to me. I do have a story idea — for down the road — that feels as though it has to be told in first person, but other than that one, my ideas tend to lend themselves to third person.

I read a lot where people say they love first person because they feel as though they’re really inside the character’s head. But for me, first person limited does the same thing. The book is telling the story through one character’s eyes and thoughts, and if the character doesn’t see it, or wouldn’t think it, it doesn’t get in the book. It’s not like omniscient, where the book is narrated by an all-seeing being that reveals all action and all the thoughts. To me, that style is distracting and makes it difficult to be really pulled into a book.

But with third-person limited, the reader is just as much inside the head of the character as in first person. The only difference is, with third-person limited, you’re like in Being John Malkovich, you’re still yourself but looking through their eyes — and better than the movie, hearing their thoughts. But in first person, you are that person. Everything is I, so the reader has to become that character. For me as a reader, that can be distracting sometimes, because if the character does something I wouldn’t do, it immediately takes me out of the story. With third-person limited, if the character does something I wouldn’t do, I can still enjoy it because I’m seeing their life, not living it.

Does that make sense?

Just my two cents on it. What’s yours?

Write On!


3 Responses

  1. Linda says:

    Absolutely makes sense to me. I also write in close third for the same reasons you gave. Occasionally, I start a work in first, but soon abandon it for close third. I feel somewhat claustrophobic in first. 🙂

  2. Ha, that’s a good way of describing it, actually. Like you’re so in their skin, you can’t stretch out. Oooh, I’m sounding like the plot from a Japanese horror movie. 🙂

    I haven’t yet tried first person, and I must say, I have great admiration for those who can do it well, because reading all those I’s gets tiring after a while, but some writers pull it off flawlessly, I think. A favorite for me is the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Rick Riordan does a great job with the first person in those.

    As I mentioned, I do have an idea for a book that I think will have to first person. But I think I’ve got some other ideas calling before I get to that one. I’ll work up to it. 🙂

  3. beth says:

    I usually like third person the best, but it’s great how much internal thought can be found using first person…

What do you think?