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Preferring The First Or Third Person

A screenshot of the game Skyrim

Do you prefer books to be written in the first or third person? For many books it is thr case that whichever is chosen, you know it couldn’t have been any other way. In other cases a reader can point to chapters or even whole books that would have been better from a different written angle. There are positives and drawbacks to both, which is what I’ll be focusing on today.

There is of course a second person, but it is rarely used, perhaps because of the difficulties in keeping it going and the limitations it places on writing.

The most obvious aspect of the first person is the way it invites bias and limits objectivity. A work written from the point of view of a character is not going to give you a good sense of other characters’ opinions – the narrator can tell you what they think, but it might not feel detailed enough or correct. Unreliable narrators are an intriguing element, but for the very nature of the first person you may miss out on a lot of information. The reader is left to decide how reliable the character is and what the truth is of other characters. Depending on the book, this can be a drawback or a fun part of the reading experience.

First-person narrative informs the reader of the character’s personality more than can the third. However it may also mean that it’s easier to find the character annoying because you hear their thoughts. Of course a character can be annoying in the third person but it is more likely to be caused by their actions.

First-person inevitably argues for knowing the character the best. You hear their thoughts straight from them, in their words, and get an intimate knowledge. True, the third-person can include thoughts, but only as a report of kinds – ‘she thought…’. It’s not the same.

Third-person narrative provides more of a general overview of a character – you will possibly learn more about them overall than if they were in the first person and concentrating on certain thoughts, for example. Yet this is of course restrictive, you won’t know the character as well as you might have otherwise, and of course you’re only hearing from the author (which, whilst fine, does open your opinion of the character to the author’s own biases towards them).

The third person is also the author’s voice. Granted, so is first, but first-person is more likely to be styled to fit the character. In terms of plot threads left hanging it is surely more acceptable in the third person as the first would think in detail.

These are some of my thoughts, and interestingly in writing this I see that it would make more sense for me to prefer the third person when instead I like both equally and only see issues if a book isn’t working for me.

This post has only covered a few points and differences – what features come to your mind? And do you have a preference?


Jenny @ Reading the End

March 12, 2014, 1:29 am

It never occurred to me to have a preference between third-person narrators and first-person narrators — I remember reading a book when I was ten or so whose characters all hated “I-books” and seemed to think that everyone hated “I-books”, and I was astonished to hear such a thing. It had just never crossed my mind!

Anyway, I still don’t have a preference, but I will say that while I occasionally think an author should have stuck to third-person (rather than first), I never think a third-person narrator would have been better as a first-person narrator. So maybe I secretly prefer third-person?


March 12, 2014, 10:30 am

For me it really depends on the author, subject and writing style. Because some people do first-person narration amazingly and other’s don’t. I guess if I had to chose though, it would be third-person.

Literary Feline

March 12, 2014, 2:57 pm

I like both equally for the reasons you mention. I can’t say I’ve ever found myself thinking a book should have been written from a different perspective.

Two things that annoy me though–when an author writes the same story (in a short story, novella, or another book) she or he has just written from another perspective. It’s happening a lot, particularly in the YA genre, I’ve noticed.

But my real pet peeve is when a book is written in first person and then, suddenly, towards the end of the book, in pops a third person narrative. It feels like a cheat to me. If the two different narrative voices occur throughout, I don’t have an issue with it–it’s just when the shift comes out of the blue, always towards the end.


March 12, 2014, 8:46 pm

This is an interesting question but I don’t think I really have a preference…thinking about my favourite books, some of them are written in third person and some in first. The only time I do sometimes have a problem is when third person and first person are both used in the same book. I’ve read quite a few books recently that alternate between the two and it can be distracting.


March 12, 2014, 10:21 pm

I really love a good unreliable narrator!

Christine @Buckling Bookshelves

March 13, 2014, 2:57 pm

I have enjoyed books with both, but probably prefer first person — I like seeing a story through one person’s eyes. But it is true that can sometimes be limiting. Like you, I’m more likely to take issue with it if it’s not done well or I feel it should have been written from a different perspective — if it works, it works and I can’t say I even fully take notice if the book is going well for me.

Katie @ Doing Dewey

March 14, 2014, 12:03 am

I used to not even notice if books were in first person or third person, but I’m happy to say that I’ve been getting better at analyzing writing as I’m reading more. Recently I’ve realized that third person can often make me feel disconnected from the characters, although it can also certainly be done well.


March 16, 2014, 12:56 am

I like them both, but I find in my cranky old age I’m starting to shy away from YA first person. It gets me much too close to the whiny, self-involved voice of so many teen-agers. Many times their actions are so much more pleasant, so I’ll stick with that.

Really authors can show you the opinions of other people. My book club just read Ellen Emerson White’s Long May She Reign, (tight third person, so we see only Meg’s thoughts) and one thing we all applauded was how well character development was done for so many characters.


March 18, 2014, 10:00 pm

Good discussion Charlie. I can’t I’ve really thought about this before. I have in the past enjoyed both first and third person narration. Being a reader that finds it important to connect with characters I think I might be slightly leaning towards first person as my favourite. I am happy to read either though.


April 4, 2014, 6:01 pm

Jenny: Interesting! I would think it more likely that third would be considered better as first so that you’ve said what you have is pause for thought.

Alice: That’s true. Sometimes you wonder if an author wouldn’t have been better with the other.

Literary Feline: It would be difficult in many cases to really be able to think clearly on it, but then sometimes you might have a situation where there wasn’t enough information due to the viewpoint chosen. I do wonder if that trend is to just keep the series going, no matter how much excitement there was over the unreleased Edward Cullen version of Twilight, for example. An interesting idea but you couldn’t really say you’d read a different book unless there was a lot of navel gazing by each person!

Yes, the sudden change is annoying so often! Too confusing and just strange.

Helen: It takes a few minutes to adjust to the change, I find, and then you have to keep doing that for the rest of the book…

Jeanne: They are so much fun, if frustrating at times!

Christine: True, when it just works you don’t really think about it at the time. And I agree, it’s nice getting the story from someone, there’s an intimacy and more opportunity to relate.

Katie: I remember finally getting to grips with the difference, in terms of chosen words, and being happy at that :) Yes, there is a definite disconnect, and it’s just whether it can still work or not.

Beth: There are too many of the same, and I say that as a person who still picks it up readily. That viewpoint sounds really interesting, a focus but with first-person.

Jessica: Yes, that’s the thing about first-person, you get that connect whether or not the book is good, bad, and so forth. Third does mean you sometimes have to work harder, or rather the author does.



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