Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First vs. Third Person

Lately, I've had the pleasure of reading some great historical fiction in first person: Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, Anita Davison's latest WIP, The Cherry Garden and now, Brandy Purdy's The Boleyn Wife.  With all this reading comes the inevitable question; what's with the great debate about first versus third person narratives?

Some people LOATHE first person, cannot appreciate it and will not touch it with the proverbial ten foot pole. But there are also others who swear it is the only viewpoint they love, especially when the main character is female. Having written in both third and first person, I understand the pros and cons of each, but I still like first person better.

First person can be stilted or awkward, with a tendency to catalogue every action; e.g. I woke up, I bathed, and I ate my cereal. Or, there are somewhat contrived scenes where the main character is always at the right moment and time whenever a major event happens. And, sometimes, the immediacy of the ever-present "I" is repetitive and a bit claustrophobic. Third person isn't without its perils too. It's easy to blur the line between the characters' thoughts and author exposition - I've always found Little Women difficult when Alcott intrudes into her characters' scenes. Third person is detached, requiring less emotional involvement for the reader than first person. Also, when working with multiple POVs in third person, if characters don't have distinct voices or there's no indication the character POV has changed, the reader quickly gets lost. 

Are there certain stories or genres where first person or third person is more appropriate?

1 comment:

Anita Davison said...

A long running debate, and I have come to the conclusion it is purely a question of personal taste and the way the author handles it. I like it because like real thoughts, your character can interpose a smart remark or sarcastic observation - because that's what people do. In third person it would be author intrusion.
Thanks for the mention by the way

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