Tuesday 24 May 2016

Understanding Point of View - First Person Vs Third Person

One of the things most writers struggle with, once they stop to think about it, (which they have to if they want to get it right) is Point of View (PoV). This term is used to describe whose eyes the story is told through.

Today, I want to talk about first person and third person PoVs.

First Person: This is where the character is telling their own story.
I got out of bed and rubbed my eyes.
Third Person: This is where a narrator is telling a story about someone else.
She got out of bed and rubbed her eyes.
You can also tell a story in second person (You got out of bed and rubbed your eyes.) but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you really know what you’re doing with PoV - in which case, you probably wouldn't be reading this, so we’ll save second person for another time.

That leaves us with first person and third person as options for our Point of View. The one you choose will depend on your preferences as a writer and on which PoV suits the story you are telling.

Here are what I consider to be the main advantages and disadvantages of each:

First Person Point of View


  • Authenticity – Using first person narration sometimes makes it easier for readers to believe in the story. 
  • Empathy – First person can make readers more empathetic towards your character. 
  • Unreliable Narrators The use of first person makes it very easy to have your characters manipulate the truth… just don’t overdo it. 


  • When did they write/tell the story? – It can be hard to establish when the narrator is telling the story, particularly if they die at the end. Unless it is a ghost story… 
  • Who are they talking to? – Sometimes a first person narrator can seem a bit lost, just telling their story to nobody and for no reason. 
  • Self-involvement – How do you stop your characters from coming across as self-obsessed when they have to keep saying ‘I did this, I said that, I thought something else.’ 

Third Person Point of View


  • It’s obviously a story – The reader can relax and stop over-analysing, safe in the knowledge that you are telling them a story about something that happens to someone else. 
  • Multiple viewpoints – Depending on the way you are using third person, you might be able to change between characters’ viewpoints without confusing the reader. 
  • Objectivity – Third person allows you to describe the character and to give your readers more information than you could in first person. 


  • It’s harder to mislead the reader – In third person, the reader expects the narrator to be reliable and is likely to feel cheated if you blatantly withhold information. 
  • You have to convince the reader to care – In third person, you don’t have the automatic empathy and credibility of first person. You have to work to establish, as quickly as possible, who your character is and why the reader should care about them. 
  • It's less immersive – In third person, it is much harder to pull your readers into the story and keep them there while you make them share the character’s emotions. 

Personally, I prefer to write in third person, but I know many writers who are more comfortable with first person. So you'll need to experiment and see which one feels right for you and your story.

Then we’ll talk about Limited and Omniscient PoVs.


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