Writing in Person

A lot of people ask me about writing in the first person and third person. I particularly like when chapters are written from different character’s perspectives but this does not necessarily mean in the first person. I wanted to quickly talk about three different ways of producing narrative that can have slightly different impacts on the readers.

1) The third person.

This old chestnut is used widely and definitely has its place in traditional fiction. There are many novels and short stories that work particularly well when the author is far removed from the action and can observe everything the characters are doing. I call this ‘helicopter mode’ as the writer is remote and can move between locations rapidly, jumping from one event to another without having the limitation of only seeing what the protagonist can see with their own eyes. Harry Potter is written using the third person narrative style.

2) The first person.

I have written a book entirely through the eyes of one character and this can be incredibly effective as any reader can feel like they are inside that character’s mind, going through the plot points and experiencing emotions with that individual. It feels generally more biographical and can be a brilliant way to engage an audience but it has limitations. Unless the main character decides to detail everything the other characters do, you may not always know what else is going on, without having those events seen through one pair of eyes and from one point of view. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told by one person using a series of letters that he writes. It is a superb book with a clear voice and strong storyline.

There is another way of using the first person comfortably. Each chapter can be told by a different character. In some such stories, often the chapters bounced from one person to another, with extra characters added in at crucial points in the books. Joanne Harris often uses multiple first person chapters to great effect.

3) The third person close.

This intriguing style is used as a compromise between the first and third person and allows the reader to cosy up to a character for a while but does allow the author to flip between characters when needed. You are not inside anybody’s head when you read such stories but the narrative indicates thoughts and feelings. Liane Moriarty used this well in Nine Perfect Strangers where she wrote a chapter about each character but did not use ‘I, we, my’ pronouns. Instead she mentioned in great detail what each person did and thought.

Example: Max had no idea what she was talking about but he nodded generously, ignoring her fowl breath and counting down the seconds until he could get away from her.

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