Point of View (The Debate Rages On)

I hear you all talking (especially you, Khy) about your point-of-view preferences…first versus third person. As a reader, I’d never really given it that much thought, a book worked if it worked. Meaning, the point of view didn’t matter to me if the writer was capable of telling the story, no matter which perspective they’d chosen.

But as a writer, I’ve had to consider this, to think about it, to delve deep into my psyche. Okay, really? Maybe not so much with that last part, I mean it’s not that deep a question. But it does spark some (somewhat) heated discussions, and some varied opinions, even (I’ve discovered) within myself.

I’m not sure I have a strong enough opinion to jump on my soapbox and make a broad proclamation that “I” is better than “he” or “she.” Or vice versa. I think there are benefits to both. (And, yes, I realize there is that pesky second person narrative, but, honestly, I don’t really get-it, so for argument’s sake, I’m going to pretend it doesn’t exist. Just go with me on this one.)

It really comes down to personal choice, to what works best for you. Some writers prefer one point of view over the other, tending to write all (or at least most) of their work from that perspective. Personally, I like to dabble. Switch hit, you might say. The Body Finder is third person, my current project is first, and I really liked writing both of them. Equally, but in completely different ways.

One thing I’ve noticed about first person is that it’s easier to get inside of your character’s head and flesh out their personality. You’re freer to express their internal dialogue, which can add humor/drama/impact. Sometimes. It can also give you a bad case of TMI, so you have to be careful just how much “sharing” you do (you don’t want your character to come across as whiny or bitchy or just plain unlikeable). Also, I think it would be easy to get stuck in that internal world, leading to far too much telling and not enough showing.

And, in my opinion, a writer can just as easily bring their characters to life (in High-Def & Technicolor) in third person, all while adding a broader view than just that one character’s perspective. Sometimes. If not employed properly, it can also lead to flat, cardboard cutout-type characters, and in some cases allow for too many POVs which can muddy the waters.

So what’s the answer? There isn’t one. There is no clear winner. Don’t believe me? Then check out each of these lists and tell me which list we could do without.

(I triple-dog dare you!)


To Kill a Mockingbird (I have to include this one because it’s one of my all-time faves)
The Hunger Games
Beautiful Creatures
Hush, Hush
The Forest of Hands and Teeth


Harry Potter
The Golden Compass
Wicked Lovely
The Graveyard Book
The Uglies
Wondrous Strange
(Oh, and what’s this…?) The Body Finder (Sorry, I had to do it.)

(And, okay, yes, I did not search far and wide for these books; I simply turned and looked at my bookshelves. Clearly, I write YA.)

But here’s what I want to know: As a reader or a writer, do you have a preference? Would you rather be inside (or outside) of the character’s heads? Spying on their innermost thoughts and feelings, or trying to decipher their emotions by gathering clues in their actions and studying their reactions?

And which list could you do without???


BK Mattingly said…
Hi Kimberly! I got my swag packages in the mail today and I must say everything looks ten times better in person! I'm so excited for March to come. Thank you so much!

Growing up, I always preferred 3rd person because I like that it seems more like a storytelling. Now, I find I like them both almost equally (I still tend to go for a 3rd person novel than 1st, but it's not a determining factor :) I couldn't live without either list.
Khy said…
Teehee. :D I think you are aware that I like first person better. xD I just like it more because I can get in to those book easier; they're more personal and I feel like I know the main character better. :D But the again, some books I love (Harry Potter, Uglies, Suite Scarlett some book called The Body Finder ;]) are in third person and I knew the main characters well, so maybe I do like them equally but am convinced I like first more. WHO KNOW.
Steve Brezenoff said…
I think tomes could be written on this subject, but to sum up: each POV (including second, my current pet project) has its benefits. First person is very limiting. We can never really know what any other character is thinking, deep down, and as a writer, we cannot rely on secondary characters to expand on the story. EVER. (Unless we switch whose POV we're in, but that's a whole other spiel.) Third, of course, allows omniscience, and if used well, the author need not lose out on the intimacy of first person. (John Green, I think, uses third person very intimately, for example.)

But yeah. The whole point is, depending on what story you want to tell, and how you want to tell it, you must choose the appropriate POV to use.

All that said, I write in first person almost exclusively. I probably should challenge myself a little to use 3rd now and then.
Unknown said…
The POV doesn't matter to me when I'm reading a book. Either works for me. My WIP is 1st person. I find it easier to write in 1st and I think it just works better for the story I'm trying to tell.
Anonymous said…
Both as a reader and a writer, I much prefer third person. When first person PoV is done well, it can be fun to read. However, sometimes, I have much less tolerance for the narrators when a book is written in first person. If I cannot like their voice, it is very difficult for me to like the character, and thus the book.

Third person poses the same problem, potentially. But I am a step removed and sometimes can come to like a book despite the narrator. It's much more difficult with first person.
Vanessa said…
I love both POV's, if they're used well. Each has a unique way of bringing you into the story, and there are great examples of both.

The one thing that often bothers me is when a book switches from one to the other... I haven't often seen that done well.
Patti said…
Like you, I don't have a preference. If the story works is all that matters.

I've typically written in 3rd person, but one of my new projects is 1st. We'll see how it goes.

And no we couldn't do without either list.
PJ Hoover said…
Great post! I've been stuck on first for a while, but am considering trying a third again soon.
Anonymous said…
I can read 3rd person stories but I've noticed that I can usually get into the story more if it is done through 1st person. Sometimes the writer will have done a great job with 3rd person and I can get into it.

As far as writing it is A LOT easier for me to write in 1st person. I can figure out the emotion better. I'm trying to work on writing 3rd person though so that I'm not limited as a writer.
I really like first person, but recently I've started to develop a interest in third person. A story I'm writing, right now really feels better in third person then first.
Leigh Purtill said…
My preference for the longest time has been to write in (and read) 3rd person limited so it feels like 1st. But I have been writing lately in 1st and it definitely feels more intimate.

I think it all depends on the context of the book.

Bigger question: how do you feel about switching first POVs? I'm so tempted to try that...
Lately Ive had a preference for first person just because it lets you usually jump right into the story head first and the way my schedule is--I need that. But I love them both, though third can at times take longer to get into. I used to only write in 3rd person limited which felt like 1st person but a bit a removed and then I finally decided to switch to 1st person which totally allowed my story to come life. I might try 3rd again, but I know for awhile Ill be in 1st (especially if Im lucky enough to write the other books I have planned for my 1st person narrator). Man this debate used to rule my life! But as for reading other books it doesnt matter as much to me. Like for example The Body Finder was a pretty rockin 3rd person. Man...I wish we hadn't given away our ARC at the FNC...I feel like spending time with Jay...
lisa and laura said…
This is going to sound crazy, but as a reader I don't even notice POV as long as it's done well. As a writer I gravitate towards first person for the reasons you site in the post. It's just easier for me to get into a character's head that way.
i love both - i just want good books.
Steve - Your answer cracked me up because I was going along thinking you were totally defending third person, and then you end with "I write in first person almost exclusively." You completely threw me :)

Leigh - I tried to find examples of this online (because they weren't on my bookshelf), and the only book I saw that I'd read was Christine by Stephen King. But I didn't recall the viewpoint change. If anyone knows of any examples, I'd love to hear them!

I kind of adore the switching POVs (and have dabbled in that too). I do think it could be jarring if it's not handled carefully, as NotNessie pointed out earlier. But talk about the best of both worlds...you get inside someone's head AND get alternate viewpoints (from a more detached perspective).
Heidi Willis said…
I recently read a book that had both. it weirded me out a bit the first few chapters but then I got used to it and thought it really worked. (There were three major characters. One was first person and the other two were third).

I always wrote in third until this last one. I didn't really choose 1st - it chose me. And scared the bejeebers out of me. But it didn't work any other way, so I went with it.

I think first helps you create a really strong voice for the book a little more easily. As for reading it, I don't really care as long as it's done well.
Christina said…
Before reading this as a reader I had never thought about Point Of View really but now I'm kind of intrigued.

I think for the most part the books that I read are from the first person persepective, but then when I write it's always third person.

I think I like the general perspective though one receives from a third person outlook. With first person you see things almost one dimentional and at times, and especially with certain situations I feel like I want that broader view. I love it when a book in first person switches POV from character to character - I just feel like a intense insider when this happens haha.

I feel though all in all I like them equally. Both bring different things to the table.
Stephanie C said…
Hi Kimberly,
I'm attempting to write a book now and I'm having this debate internally. As a reader, you're right I couldn't live without either sets of books, and I don't prefer one POV over the other if the writing is good and gets me feeling and thinking. H/E I have noticed the merits and disadvantages of both. I feel like some of the most profound YA books I've read were in the first person (Matched, Delirium) and I think its b/c you really connect to the main character on a deeper level when you can see whats going on internally and really feel and live their reactions. At the same time you can't get that for any of the other characters in the story. How cool would it have been to know what was going on with Edward in Twilight, or Alex in Delirium.
That said, I'm personally finding it difficult to NOT write in the third person as its kind of been drilled into me through all my years of college and I feel like I have story to tell from the perspectives of the other main characters. Its a difficult choice indeed!
Stephanie - I think what I'm realizing more and more is that when done right you actually stop noticing which POV a book is written in. Third person can be close-third, in which you get a much better internal view of the character's perspective. I just started Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and all of a sudden it dawned on me (around page 50) that it was third person. She did a great job with getting inside her character's head!