Thursday, April 19, 2012

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing in first-person and in third-person? (Part 2)

In the last post I examined first-person stories. To review, in a first-person narrative we write from that character’s point of view: I flew the plane into the mountain. When we do this, readers closely identify with the character and her struggles. When writing from third-person, we let readers observe what happened: He flew the plane into the mountain.

So, what are the pros and cons of writing in third-person? Well, the big con is giving up some of the intimacy of the reader's engagement with the story that the first-person point of view (or POV) provides. Third-person writing creates just a little more distance between the reader and the story itself. Also, for me, it seems like it’s harder to really grab hold of and render that character’s voice.

The advantages include (1) being able to explore the feelings and thoughts of many characters rather than just one, (2) threading in multiple plot-lines throughout the novel that all combine at the end, (3) writing scenes in which the protagonist doesn’t appear, and (4) adding variety to your word choice and writing style.

Let me elaborate on that last point. I probably wouldn’t write, I meandered across the field and then sighed languidly as I studied the lonely clouds. People just don’t talk like that, so it sounds inauthentic. However, you could render that in third-person and it might work fine: She meandered across the field and then sighed languidly as she studied the lonely clouds.

Often thrillers today include multiple POV characters. To create suspense you can flip through different characters’ points of view. For example, you might show the killer breaking into the woman’s car, then flip to her exiting the elevator of the parking garage and pulling out her keys. Then shift to the killer’s POV again as he sees her, pulls out his knife, and ducks down in the back seat. Then return to the woman who taps her key fob to unlock the door and then reaches for the door handle…

You couldn’t create this suspense by writing in first-person because you would be limited to what that person can think, see, or do, and he wouldn’t know there’s a killer in the car—after all, if he did, he wouldn’t open the door.

So, I typically write about 70% of my book from my protagonist’s first-person POV and then include other third-person POVs to create suspense, have multiple story-lines, and render scenes in which my protagonist doesn’t appear.

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