Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.

Reading and Writing 1st person point of view–yes or no?

22 Comments

I’ve written two novels based largely on journal entries. The first one, ‘Inheritance’, starts with the main character written from the third person point of view, but changes, when she finds a diary, to that character’s view point, obviously in the first person POV.

More recently I wrote another novel almost entirely as a journal, so almost entirely from the first person POV, ‘Her Flesh and Blood’, due out soon. I think this was the best way to tell that particular story because readers will have their own opinions about what she writes in her journal and will also have knowledge that she doesn’t. I particularly enjoy playing around with the idea of the ‘naive narrator’.

My question is, do you, as readers or as writers, like books written from the 1st person point of view? I’ve just finished the first draft of another novel, a rural romance, which I started as third person and fully intended to continue in that POV. Then, several thousand words in, I got bored with the whole thing and I realised I had trouble relating to the protagonist. I decided to change the POV to 1st person and found the words flowed much easier.

I have to confess though, as a reader, I’ve tended to avoid first person narratives unless they came with a very good recommendation. A writer friend has told me readers, and therefore publishers, don’t like them.

I have no intention of re-writing the book I’ve just finished but I’m wondering if I’ve fallen into something of a bad habit. Should I make more effort next time around to write from the 3rd person point of view or just go with what seems appropriate to tell the story?

My children’s book, ‘Beast of War’ (All third person POV!) is free on Amazon the 23rd and 24th July. It’s only around 30,000 words and if you have any spare time reviews would be appreciated.

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Author: cmsgardnerblog

I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction, for teens and adults. I live in Central Victoria, Australia and my books are available at https://www.amazon.com/author/christinemgardner and https://www.smashwords.com/interview/ChristineGardner

22 thoughts on “Reading and Writing 1st person point of view–yes or no?

  1. I prefer writing in limited third-person. It allows me to still get inside the head of the POV character and maintain a consistent voice. I don’t mind reading first person, but in my experience, it tends to be one of the harder perspectives to sustain in regard to quality of writing. It becomes easy to slip into many of the grammatical shortcuts and outright errors we make when speaking. And then there are the slips into omniscience that just through me out of the narrative as a reader.

  2. Hi, Chris,
    You asked very very good and thoughtful questions. There are positive things to say about both narrative devices, and personally I’m inclined to shy away from first-person fiction, at least in most cases; it does work well for getting into the head of the story teller, but you’re stuck there! And as for the third-person style, sometimes the author becomes bogged down trying to crawl into the minds and thoughts of everybody. A clumsy dilemma.
    I’ve struggled with the choice in my own work, and lately I developed a compromise for a work of “literary fiction” I’ve just finished. I wrote a story about one central character, using the third-person approach, but stuck with presenting all action as seen through his eyes, heard through his ears, never delving into other character’s emotional states or thoughts except when he actually is witness to the events. As if he is recording only what he sees or hears himself. Any activities or words spoken “offstage” are not included.
    Whether or not my idea works has not been decided yet, since no one else has read my piece…
    Tom
    tom@newsomart.com

    • Yes it is hard to tell sometimes how well it works until you have another opinion. Actually several, because some will like it and others won’t, no matter what you write. I must admit I have made little detours in all of mine, to allow another point of view. Hopefully that resolves the dilemma of being stuck in one person’s head. Resolved it for me anyway!

  3. I too find that words flow easily if I write in 1st person POV. I also like reading 1at person as it’s more personal and it helps me to relate to the characters.

  4. This is a really interesting debate and one that I have had in my head often. I always write in the third person, primarily because up until recently I hated first person writing and couldn’t get my head around it at all. This changed for me when I got my Kindle and I started downloading a number of different books, only to find that vast majority of the books that I read now, are written in the first person. Once I get through the first page and get my brain into first person mode I am fine, and I have read some excellent books written from this POV. My personal preference though is third person and I can’t see me ever writing in anything other than that – my only worry is that from my experience, third person seems to be dying out now and I wonder whether or not it is indeed true that publishers don’t like first person as I read very few books that are not written in the first person, whereas in the past, it was most definitely the other way around. Great post. 🙂

    • Thanks Jade. I still have a problem reading 1st person and I must give it more of a go. I only started writing that POV because my protagonist found a diary in my novel ‘Inheritance’. I had to use 1st person of course for the diary entries and I found I enjoyed that a lot more than the 3rd person parts of the book. It just seems to flow better for me.

  5. I don’t like to read it. I understand it is the way to go in Young Adult fiction. I write third person omniscient because I want to tell the story and I can’t just do one person’s point of view. I insist I cannot write it, but, on the other hand, my whole blog is first person.

    One person in a review, only the one ever, said, “Sometimes it seemed like the narrator was telling the story.” As opposed to waiting in the car? It is what I intend.

    Another person, not in reference to my work, said, “I don’t like stories.” So, whatever is right for you is the way to go. There are certainly enough books to read that you can find what you like.

  6. I always seem to say to go with what the story calls for. I always let me story talk to me and go from there.
    I like first person al so as it is as if you can relate to the person as a whole being and they are there telling you the story. Cheers!

  7. I love to read a book in first person ; always have.
    When I write, and I am a writer – NOT an author, I almost always write in the first person. I don’t know if that is because I like to read first person, or because I can’t develop more than one character, or what…
    My characters, or POV, vary greatly from piece to piece. Male and female, eight to eighty years plus old. Of course there is always more than one character, but only one voice. (Except for dialogue, which is not my forte. Thinking or talking to oneself, that I have down.)

    • Interesting, Kat. I’m not sure why I’m not keen on reading 1st person but I do love writing it. It just seems to flow more easily.

      • I think when I read in first person, I am more immersed in the story – as though I am really in it. I “feel more” what the character is feeling.

        I tend to get really caught up in what I am reading, and I think first person makes it more so.
        I always say that when I am reading, to myself of course, I “hear” a little voice “reading” me the story. As I have gotten older I cannot hear two things at once. When my husband and I are at the grocery store and I want to read a nutrition label, if my husband interrupts me, my reading to myself that is, I have to chastise him.. “Shhh,” I say, ” when you talk to me when I am reading a label I can’t hear the voice inside of my head telling me what the label says.” Let me tell you – Everyone around us gives us a wide berth.
        But seriously, I “hear” what I read.

  8. I like both, so I like first person. To take a recent example, Richard Ford’s novel ‘Canada’ is first person.
    I wrote a post on this subject so I won’t ramble on here:

    http://tinyurl.com/k48bmdq

  9. I do find that I like writing in first person if I’m writing from personal experience; even if the work is fiction, the question is whether or not the protagonist is some version of me. But I’ve realized that I write both, depending. When I’m writing about children, it’s third person. Adults, it varies.

    My favourite novel is Jane Eyre and it was only recently that it even occurred to me that it’s in first person.

    • Hmm. I do like writing it but I’m going to try not to next time. An agent rejected my latest book because I used 1st person POV and I understand why since I’m not actually keen on reading it, but maybe I will come across something to change my mind.

      • I know a few people who absolutely HATE it (one in particular springs to mind; it’s like his arteries will explode if he comes across it). I’ve never been bothered, so it surprises me that an agent would reject it. But I suppose in the end, there is no one who despises third person, so it’s a safe route at least.

  10. That sounds boring! Maybe I won’t do it then!

  11. You should definitely write as you like to write. 🙂 Whichever works for you best will work for your reader. I’ve seen a lot of debate lately on present tense. I’d say that if a work is well written, people get over their issues quickly.

  12. Yes. I’m kind of hovering between writing what I enjoy or writing what I think I can sell–keep changing my mind.

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