Perspective: First Person vs. Third Person:

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1 Alma5th Apr 2013 12:10:54 PM from Coruscant , Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
So I've been thinking: Maybe the reason I've been having trouble churning out that novel of mine is because I decided to write it from a third-person perspective. Perhaps it would come more naturally to me if I were to write it in first person.

It's especially challenging in my case because my main character is an alien and I've made it my mission for the aliens' cultures, thought patterns, dialects, etc. to all be unique. They are humanoid, but culturally distinct from humans, as you would expect: humanity alone has thousands of different cultures.

But there are some who seem to be of the belief that first-person writing is for hacks, and third-person is the only real way to write.

Opinions?
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2 Matues5th Apr 2013 01:00:52 PM from Mars , Relationship Status: Reincarnated romance
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First person is very personal, as it jacks you directly into what the character is thinking.

I prefer third-person myself, but I've read plenty of first-person novels I quite enjoyed.
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3 DeMarquis5th Apr 2013 03:13:21 PM from Hell, USA , Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
Hacks? Hardly, unless you think the Dresden Files is written by a hack. The trouble is that first person is more challenging to write, and for awhile it was fashionable to use it for superficial reasons (because people thought it was cool). Like any other fashion, it got overused, and it's reputation suffered. But good writing is good writing, and well-written first person is just as respectable as any other form.
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4 peccantis6th Apr 2013 12:25:15 PM , Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
the flies will find you
Wait, are we discussing perspective or narrative person?

I think single person perspective is the most natural way to experience a scene and a story really, but keeping it solid enough without employing first person narration can be a challenge.

Harry Potter comes to mind. Everything's in third person narration, but the vast majority of the story is told via Harry's POV, and the few scenes that are not follow some other character's POV.

Of course, every POV and narrator has its uses.
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5 DeMarquis8th Apr 2013 07:15:00 AM from Hell, USA , Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
Well, that's an interesting point. Yes, you do have a POV character with third person limited narration. But I've read some of Alma's story, and she already uses that form. She's asking if she should change from presenting the POV in third person limited to first person.

I think it would be esp. challenging to write a story from first person using an alien as the main character, esp. if the alien is supposed to be truly unique, and not just a human in a different body. Creating an alien perspective, filtering all events, even the actions of other, human, characters, through the perspective of an alien mind would be really difficult. Ideally, the readers should be made aware that the alien narrator isn't telling the whole story (because they cant, being limited in the way that they can understand things). I think it would be esp. difficult to write a true alien that a human reader could identify with. The main character of a story has to be someone the reader can identify with, and at the same time someone who challenges the reader's own personal experiences.

Alma, you have your work cut out for you, is all I can say.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
6 MajorTom8th Apr 2013 07:24:54 AM , Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
Opinions?

First person is as mentioned incredibly personal. It strictly limits you to the perspective of one character as he/she sees it. Naturally this makes works with large amounts of World Building or shifting character POV's highly inappropriate for first person POV.

Third person (limited or omniscient) is impersonal, it takes more effort or recurring mentions of what <Character> is thinking or feeling to achieve personal status. (For good or ill it might be.) It is however excellent for shifting viewpoints, mass amounts of World Building, plot/world driven stories and historical fiction.

The key thing here is context. If the story is incredibly character-driven and doesn't need much World Building (like say a crime drama set in today), first person is the natural inclination. If the story is heavily plot or world-driven (like a High Fantasy or Sci-Fi story), then third person is the natural inclination.

This is however not a hard and fast rule. Works in first person have been done before where there was a lot of plot drive or World Building required. Likewise, extremely personal stories have been done in third person.
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7 JimmyTMalice28th Apr 2013 11:00:48 AM from Ironforge , Relationship Status: THIS CONCEPT OF 'WUV' CONFUSES AND INFURIATES US!
Having multiple first person narrators, by the way, is the worst thing you could possibly do. It's just confusing.
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8 DeMarquis28th Apr 2013 11:07:58 AM from Hell, USA , Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
Not everyone agrees. It has been used successfully, as in "Rashomon" and "The Sound and the Fury".
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
9 SalFishFin28th Apr 2013 02:12:12 PM from on top of Your Mum , Relationship Status: I get a feeling so complicated...
Trolling Swordsman
Honestly, so long as it's not multiple first-person narrators in the same chapter there really isn't a problem, unless you consider "people being idiots" a problem.
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10 chihuahua028th Apr 2013 03:24:28 PM from Standoff, USA , Relationship Status: I LOVE THIS DOCTOR!
Writer's Welcome Wagon
I don't even think that multiple first-person narrators in the same chapter is pretty much doomed, as long as you separate your sections properly with section breaks, headers, and distinct voices.

11 nrjxll28th Apr 2013 04:39:00 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
Honestly, in some ways I think there's not much of a difference. Third-person limited and first-person probably have more in common with each other than either does with third-person omniscient, which is largely dead these days.
12 JHM29th Apr 2013 01:52:28 AM from Neither Here Nor There , Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
I wouldn't say that it is dead so much as unfashionable and, to many people's purposes, difficult to use. But even then, the detached first person narrator and third person omniscient have a pretty strong degree of overlap in some areas. Peter Straub demonstrates this quite handily in the narration to Floating Dragon, but it would take a bit to explain why.

Second person is interesting, as is first person plural.
13 nrjxll29th Apr 2013 01:55:36 AM , Relationship Status: Not war
Eh, both are kind of gimmicky in all but a few situations.
14 JHM29th Apr 2013 02:09:07 AM from Neither Here Nor There , Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
Both are definitely easy to abuse, but they both have the potential to be quite interesting in the right context.
15 demarquis29th Apr 2013 05:35:08 AM from Hell, USA , Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
Like any other fashion, it's dead as dead can be, until one day when it isnt anymore...
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
16 drunkscriblerian1st May 2013 10:35:55 PM from Castle Geekhaven , Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
But there are some who seem to be of the belief that first-person writing is for hacks, and third-person is the only real way to write.

There are some people who think that, but I wouldn't listen to them.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
17 JHM2nd May 2013 11:59:12 AM from Neither Here Nor There , Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
What person in their right mind claims that the first person is a hack technique? I have heard people claim that people claim this, but I do not think that I have ever heard someone actually claim it.
As a reader, I can read books either in first or third person and am not bothered by it either way. You're still probably going to get into the character's head and filter things through their perspective. Either can be done well or poorly, just like anything else.

As a writer, I feel more comfortable writing in third person and the two completed novels that I have that I would ever consider doing anything with are both written in third person with at least a couple point-of-view characters. My third novel (which I have not started and am still planning out and figuring out how I want to go about doing it) will be in first person with several point of views; each chapter will identify whose point of view it will be told from, just like Song of Ice and Fire and As I Lay Dying, so the reader will never be confused as to whose head they are in. Faulkner pulled it off in As I Lay Dying and a few other authors have done it as well so it can be done. Whether or not I am skilled enough to pull it off remains to be seen. I am doing this because half the narrators will be unreliable, either because they are lying or delusional. Again, whether or not I am good enough to pull this off, I have no idea but I guess I'll find out whenever I get started on that thing.
I don't think that first person writing is for hacks, but I do think that third person should be the default, and first person should only be used if a conscious decision to use first person has been made.
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20 Tehpillowstar20th May 2013 06:45:10 PM from the remains of the Galactic Federation fleet , Relationship Status: YOU'RE TEARING ME APART LISA
Giant alien spiders are no joke.
I think First, Second and Third person are pretty damn cool.

Personally, I think whatever fits for your story is best. Some stories shine by using First person (The Dresden Files, for instance), while Third person is better for other stories.

Personally, I like second person best, but that's just a matter of personal taste.
"Life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight." -R. W. Raymond
hm. i prefer second person too. easier to write a person that way without sounding self-centered.

[up]though as you said, all have their place.

edited 20th May '13 9:38:03 PM by Passerby

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I have talked to someone who said the the first-person present tense of The Hunger Games made it bad for her. I think it helps to pull the reader into the story. Surely it was done on purpose for that reason.
23 nrjxll21st May 2013 01:08:51 AM , Relationship Status: Not war
I dislike present tense, first or third-person. It just annoys me on some personal level. It's neither a deal-breaker nor objectively wrong, but I can certainly see where that person was coming from.
24 LadyMomus21st May 2013 04:16:11 AM from My Own Little World
Modelland Survivor
I hate present tense. Every book I've read in the present tense ends up with an awkward narrative.

In terms of first person vs. third person, I think it depends on what you want to do with the story. Third person tends to be nice for ensemble casts, especially if the action takes place in several places. You can switch between the characters between chapters without breaking the flow of the narrative.

First person can feel more intimate, but it also limits the story to only things that the POV character is present for. (Unless you want to have multiple first person POV characters, which can get a bit confusing.)

Short version: each perspective has pros and cons.
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I almost always write in third person. Not because I think first person is for hacks or anything like that. It's just a habit I've always been in because it's easier for me for me. Although I have recently had an idea for an epistolary story I'll hopefully get around to writing that's told as a series of emails, forum/blog posts, etc., which would naturally only really make sense in first person since that's how people write those things. In general, though, I don't tend to write in first person unless I have some kind of gimmick like that.

edited 21st May '13 9:59:20 AM by FingerPuppet


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