In my recent blog post, I described the advantages of writing novels and short stories from the first person perspective. This is a way of writing that implies that the author is the main character of the story, with all the respective consequences. Although this is an interesting way to organize narration, in my opinion, the majority of authors still seem to prefer the classic third person point of view—and there are several good reasons for this option.
- As a writer, you have more freedom when writing from the third person perspective. You can “teleport” into the head of any character to reveal his or her thoughts, feelings, and hidden motives. You can describe events occurring simultaneously, instead of being focused on some of them, as in the case of the first person writing. You are not bound to your character, so you can develop several storylines at the same time, and so on. In fact, you can be a true demiurg of your world, not just one of its inhabitants.
- Writing from the third person is objective. This means you can juxtapose, for example, a character’s true nature with what he or she tries to look like to other characters. This provides you with a lot of opportunities to create tension, develop your story, and so on. For example, you might be describing a scene where a young girl—the main heroine—meets a nice and well-mannered guy in a cafe. They chat, laugh, and decide to meet again some other day. What the girl does not know (but what your readers do, since you tell them) is that this nice guy is a serial killer; your readers will feel intrigued and thrilled to learn what happens next, and how your heroine will get out of the situation. This contrast between “what really is” and “what it seems like” creates objectivity.
- The third person perspective is more descriptive. You have more opportunities to evoke certain feelings in your audience through describing interiors, appearances, landscapes, and so on. A thorough description of a battlefield in the middle of combat provided by a “first-person” character would probably look strange (like, “When did he get time to notice all that?”); as an omnipresent author, you are free of such conventionalities.
However, there are several peculiar properties of writing from the third person perspective you should be aware of.
- It is traditional. Everyone writes in third person. To amaze or to surprise a reader is a more difficult task when you write in this way.
- Creating emotional connections between your readers and your main character is also more complicated. If you have read “Flowers for Algernon” (written in the first person) you probably felt the same way as the main character all along the story: his intellectual growth, his sadness and grief, hope, despair, quick degradation. I believe if this novel was written in third person, it would not have such a powerful emotional effect. To achieve the same effect in a third person perspective story is much more difficult, in my opinion.
- It is too easy to become super-explanatory. I think there is no need to explain how and why explaining every little detail can make your story boring or cumbersome, and that one of the golden rules of writing is “show, do not tell.”
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