Writing in First Person vs. Third Person

Writing in first person vs third person cover image

When I first started writing my most recent story, Identity, I couldn’t decide which viewpoint to write in: first person or third person. I had used third person in the past, but that was mainly because it was what I knew and was used in most of the books I read. But more recently, I started researching first person. Why did people use it? What was so great about using first person? Which is better: writing in first person vs. writing in third person?

I read a lot of conflicting information. Some people said that third person was the best, while others said first person was the way to go. I didn’t know what to think. How could I possibly choose?

Then I wrote down a list of pros and cons for each, and that helped me make up my mind. The truth is, either viewpoint is good. Neither one is the best. It just depends on the book you’re writing.

So here are the differences between first person and third person. Hopefully, it will help you decide which one to use, just like it did for me.

Writing in First Person

First person is a viewpoint often used by middle-grade authors. It is usually very easy for readers to connect to the main character when first person is used because the viewpoint is honed into one specific character and their thoughts. First person, unlike third person, seems to be written by the main character. It used the words I, me, we, and us.

But one of the main reasons why some people don’t like writing in first person vs. third person is that you can’t switch to another character’s viewpoint. The only person in the story that you can truly connect with is the main character. You can’t switch to the bad guy’s viewpoint and reveal part of his plans. You can’t switch to the main character’s brother’s viewpoint and find out what he is doing on the other side of the world.

And that is the biggest con of using first person: you can only connect with the main character. Now, some people still switch viewpoints in first person. Often in first person romance novels, the viewpoint will switch back and forth between the woman and the man she’s going to eventually marry.

I actually did this in my novel, Identity. But if you take this approach, I would recommend being very careful to do it without confusing your readers. Make sure you have a consistent routine to your switching of viewpoints.

Another downside of using first person is that you can’t tell what other characters besides the main character are thinking unless the main character knows; and most often, the main character does not know. Sometimes this is a good thing, as it can create more suspense when your readers don’t understand everything that’s going on but other times it just makes things super confusing.

But those are really the only cons of first person. Overall, first person is a great viewpoint to use.

Pros of Writing in First Person

  • It is easy for you to connect to the main character.
  • It is easy for your readers to connect to the main character.
  • It is easier for you to display the main character’s thoughts.

Cons of Writing in First Person

  • You can’t easily switch viewpoints without confusing your readers.
  • Your readers (typically) can’t see other character’s thoughts, which could result in misunderstanding and confusion.

Writing in Third Person

Third person is most used by fantasy writers, because often in fantasy there are a lot of different moving parts and characters that are important to the plot. However, at times it can be harder for you as the writer to connect to the main character, which, as a result, makes it harder for your readers too.

But for some books, such as The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, it is necessary to use third person.

Think about what would happen if Tolkien had tried to write in first person in his series. First of all, readers would have been extremely confused in the second and third books, because they wouldn’t be able to understand what was going on with other characters in different parts of the world. They would only be able to understand Frodo, and that would give them a large limitation of knowledge.

Second of all, there are a lot of different kinds of creatures in The Lord of the Rings, and if the book was written from the main character, Frodo’s, perspective, then it would make it so that the readers couldn’t easily relate with Frodo because he is a hobbit, and the readers are all humans.

So for some books, writing in first person vs third person is an extremely bad idea, because it will turn an excellent plot into a very poorly written story.

Pros of Writing in Third Person

  • It is easy to switch viewpoints
  • It can be much less confusing for readers because with third person omniscient they can see other characters’ thoughts

Cons of Writing in Third Person

  • It is harder for the readers and writer to connect with the main character
  • It is harder for the writer to display people’s thoughts

So Which Viewpoint is Best for You?

Now for the ultimate decision: which viewpoint should you use? Both are good and bad for different reasons. It all just depends on the kind of book you’re writing.

If you’re writing a drama or romance book then I would highly recommend writing in first person vs. third person. But if you’re writing an action/adventure or fantasy book, then I think third person is probably the best for you.

But this is all up to you, as the writer. What is best for your story? What makes the most sense for your plot and characters?

One response to “Writing in First Person vs. Third Person”

  1. […] this story, I experimented with switching between two different voices, first and third person, and switching between past and present tense. I thought it would be interesting to try something […]

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