First Person? Third Person?

First off — hi!

This is Drew, frowning at a plant.

My name is Drew — I’m NCG’s first full-time employee (and much happier about that than I am with that plant)! I’m a published author, and Keith brought me in to help him out with a little bit of everything — you’ll see me around here and there, poking my head in!

Since today’s Talk in Third Person Day, this felt like a good day to introduce me! (…Introduce him? Should I/he be speaking in third person?)

There are two main ways you can write a novel: first person and third person. Quick refresher: First person is when the narrator is telling the story personally (“I joined NCG”) and third person is when the narrator is detached and describing what’s going on (“Drew is writing a blog post”). There are a couple different flavors of third person, but that’s the basic gist of it!

(Technically, you COULD write something in second person, as well. You’re realizing that I’m writing in second person right now, in fact. You probably feel a little uncomfortable, though, which is the big problem with second person.)

There are some big pros and cons with each approach — and that’s why with my first novel, I actually had drafts written each way!

The good, the bad, the third person

First person can help your readers instantly connect with your narrator. This is a really great way to make sure that your readers love your main character right away, and it’s especially common with children’s and young adult books (and so it can make a novel aimed at adults feel like it’s aimed for a lower age category). But, bonus — it can also make it really easy to have an unreliable narrator, who can outright lie to the readers… or a narrator who doesn’t know anything more than the readers do, and can be just as tricked and confused!

Third person adds a level of detachment to the story — your narrator could be either all-seeing and all-knowing, always telling the truth, or the narrator could be a character themselves. This can help elevate the level of your writing in one step, but it also means that your main character might need to work a little bit harder to worm their way into the hearts of your readers! If you’re jumping between perspectives, though, it can be a lot easier for your readers to remember which character they’re following on that page!

So… which to write in? That’s entirely up to you! Both of them can be fantastic, and choosing what person to write in can help set the tone of your project! To show the difference, here’s the first paragraph of my novel in both first and third person — see if you can guess which version was the final decision! The differences are small, for sure (especially in one paragraph), but even this quickly, you can see the difference that this shift can make!

Example time!

First: I don’t know why I’ve never bothered cutting through here before. This isn’t so bad, I thought as I walked down the long, circling driveway towards the ravine, my breath coming out in little puffs of fog against the blue sky. I was technically trespassing on the grounds of a community centre, but no one was around to say anything, and my little brother seemed to get away with it all the time.

Third: I don’t know why I’ve never bothered cutting through here before. This isn’t so bad, Holly thought as she walked down the long, circling driveway towards the ravine. Her breath came out in little puffs of fog against the blue sky. She was technically trespassing on the grounds of a community centre, but no one was around to say anything — and her little brother seemed to get away with it all the time.

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