Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Getting to the Point: First Person vs. Third Person Views

I have author of Wedlocked, Bonnie Trachtenberg who will be sharing tips about Point of View which is one of my favorite topics.

I’m thoroughly convinced that one of the biggest reasons would-be authors never make it through page one of their would-be novels, is the daunting and confusing first step of choosing a point-of-view.  It’s something most book readers aren’t even consciously aware of, despite the fact that it hugely determines how they will relate to the characters and to the story as a whole.

First person offers a single-eye view of the world through the perspective of one character, who is also the narrator of the story. In third person, the author tells the story in an “anonymous” voice, and is afforded the advantage of tapping into more than one character’s head to convey thoughts and feelings.

For my debut novel, Wedlocked, I did not have to struggle with the decision of which view to choose. Wedlocked is based on my own experiences, namely, my impulsive, brief and disastrous marriage after years of struggling through singlehood. Telling the story through my main character, Rebecca’s, point-of-view was a natural choice, since she is really me with a few tweaks. But I soon learned of the great disadvantage of choosing first person: the story could only go as far as my protagonist’s own eyes, ears and experiences. Rebecca had to be in every scene! Luckily, her perspective was enough to convey what I needed to, and her vibrant and witty personality carried the story with ease.

In my second novel (due out early next year), I knew first person wouldn’t work nearly as well as third person. That’s because I had two characters whose heads I intended to pry into, and they weren’t even going to meet until about one hundred pages into the book. Thus, I chose third person, even though the thought of it worried me; I wasn’t sure what obstacles I’d face. Would I be able to make it as funny as Wedlocked? Could I convey the distinct personalities of the main characters as clearly? Happily, the answer is yes! As the “anonymous voice” telling the story, I could still communicate the characters’ colorful personalities and humorous thoughts, and dialogue wasn’t an issue because it’s the same in both point-of-views.

Just remember, you don’t have to make a final decision that’s set in stone before you begin writing. I learned that it’s okay to make an educated guess as to the best view to take and if you run into serious problems you can always go back to the beginning and change it. Trial and error is not against the rules and can be a great way to figure out the best mode of telling a story.

I think most authors still use third person because it allows for more versatility and complex storylines. But the use of first person seems more prevalent than ever before. Maybe that’s because a whole genre (Chick Lit) was founded on it. Ever since Bridget Jones began scrawling in her diary, millions of female readers have been swept into novels with the aid of that personal, intimate voice that speaks so well to them. Now the popularity of first person has stretched into other women’s fiction too. Several of my readers have told me that it was Rebecca’s wit and exasperation at her circumstances that made her so much fun as a narrator and so easy to relate to. That says a lot about the appeal of first person, but ultimately it’s your unique story that will determine which point-of-view is best.

Bonnie Trachtenberg is the author of Wedlocked: A Novel. She was senior writer and copy chief at Book-of-the-Month Club and has written seven children’s book adaptations.


  1. Hi, Bonnie. Great post. I'm a mix it up writer. Originally I wrote in first person because it was easy for me. As I've published more, I've settled into third person because I have found that I can add more emotions, more depth to each character. I love layering those characters in my cozy town, Grandberry Falls. I want my readers to feel like they are there and when I write in third, I feel like I give that to them.

  2. Great post! I wrote an entire novel in third person and then decided I wanted to do first person. So, I switched it over in edits. First person worked better. It's all about knowing your story and what works best for it.

    I couldn't agree with you more about POV! :)

  3. It's quite a debate and an important decision! As someone who always writes in first person from the viewpoint of more than one character, I use it to add to the suspense as the plot unravels. Wedlocked is in my TBR pile and I'm edging closer, but secretly can't wait!

  4. Interesting post. It always bemuses me how so-say experts say never write in first person as a new writer as agents and publishers don't like and first person doesn't sell. Of course it does! And I've read some excellent first books written in first person. It depends on the story and how well the writer has handled it. It's a hard discipline to only keep to one viewpoint but done well it is an excellent vehicle for story telling.