Should You Use First Or Third Person Perspective Narration In Your Story?

If you’re about to start writing a story, then working out which perspective to use can be a bit of a challenge. Although you’ll either develop a preference over time or an instinct for which one works best with a particular story, this is something which can be a bit confusing if you’re new to writing.

So, I thought that I’d list some of the pros and cons of first-person and third-person narration.

First-person narration: First-person narration is easier to write for a number of reasons. Since your story is narrated from the perspective of one character, you only really have to worry about the things that this character sees, does or hears about. This also immerses the reader in the story a lot more easily, since they are quite literally placed inside the mind of the main character.

First-person narration is also great for shorter stories. After all, if your main character is the narrator, then you can focus more on what is happening to them or what they see than on describing them.

Likewise, it is easier to use a distinctive narrative voice, to show your main character’s thoughts, to make your story “flow” better and to give your main character lots of characterisation if you’re writing from a first-person perspective.

On the downside, you can’t really show what other characters are thinking since your story is told from the perspective of just one character. Yes, this can be used to add mystery to other characters (the famous example being Sherlock Holmes. Most of the original stories are narrated by Holmes’ colleague Watson). But, if you want to give lots of characters lots of characterisation, then this is more difficult from a first-person perspective.

In addition to this, since you’re only showing things from one character’s perspective, first-person narration feels a bit more subjective and unreliable. Whilst this can be useful in some types stories, it doesn’t always fit in with literally every type of story out there.

Likewise, if you’re telling a large-scale story or even just a story that involves several plot threads, then this is a lot more difficult in first-person perspective. Yes, there are ways to do it (eg: dialogue, documents or even using more than one first-person narrator), but these are often a bit awkward to read unless handled really well. So, it only really works for stories with one main plot thread.

Third-person narration: Third-person narration gives you a lot more control over what you can show the reader. If you want to focus on one character, to focus on several characters or to describe something that the characters don’t see, then this is easy to do in third-person. It is a more “cinematic” form of narration that gives you more choice.

Likewise, third-person narration means that it is easy to have multiple plot threads – which are essential in longer stories, or stories that have a much grander scale to them. For example, an epic sci-fi, thriller or fantasy story will probably involve multiple characters in multiple locations. This is much easier and more intuitive to do with third-person narration.

Third-person narration also sounds a lot more “objective” and “authoritative”. Since the narrator is looking at the events of the story from a distance, this means that the reader is too. So, a story will feel a lot more weighty and dramatic if you use third-person narration.

On the downside, third-person narration is more difficult to write. After all, since the narrator is separate from the characters, you have to make a lot more creative decisions about what you describe, the pacing of your story, how you handle dialogue, what style of narration you use etc.. Likewise, handling multiple plot threads means that you have to plan and think about how they interact with each other too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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