I was chatting with a writing buddy the other day about the merits of third person versus first person storytelling points of view. For those not in the know, first person storytelling is considered amateurish by the writing elite, while third person is far preferred.

For those writers (like me) who cut their writing teeth via blogging, this poses a problem. Basically, we’re told that our natural writing style, in which we are proficient and comfortable, will all but scream THIS PERSON DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING to anyone who reads it.

Having written books in both third person and first person, and read successful NYT bestselling books in both styles, I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter. Maybe some people will always think first person is lame, but whatever. Someone will always find something wrong with your writing, and that’s a bummer for them because they’re dismissing so many wonderful books out of hand just because they use “I” instead of “he” or “she.”

I think it really depends on the story you’re telling. When I wrote Blood Money, I told it in third person because I was writing it from multiple perspectives and my main character, Azzam, was always a bit of a mystery to me. He’s a closed book, so to speak, and I felt like writing him from the outside looking in was the most natural way to write him.

My most recent draft, Bai Tide, however, is written from first person because I’m in Bai’s head. I know him really well, so I felt comfortable letting him run the whole show.

I guess this all goes to show you that adverbs, first person point of view, prologues, epilogues, and starting books with dialogue (these are all considered No No’s for the most part) be darned. You either tell the story you have to tell, in the way that seems most natural to you, or you falter with awkwardness because you’re trying to write like a cat walking on its hind legs.

That’s not to say that you can’t ever try to grow as a writer and try new things. That would be terrible advice. What I’m trying to say is, write what makes you happy. Fix it later if you must. Trust that if the story and storytelling are strong enough, your readers will enjoy just about anything you can think up.

Even, yes, first person.

9 thoughts on “3v1

  1. A large amount of what the “writing elite” consider to be “proper” and “good” is hogwash. Style is style, and will change with the times.

    That being said, I still dislike first person. Though not because it’s bad writing; it’s not. It’s just a personal preference.

    I do prefer my blogs written in the first person, though, so well done, you! :)

  2. Related writerly issue: I’m not sure where this was brought to my attention (or who to blame) but recently I came across something about the importance of using alternate words for “said” in dialogue.

    And now I can’t read any of LO’s books to her without noticing every single use of the darn word! I get that it’s an easy word to understand and for early readers that’s important but GAH!!!

  3. -Jonathon, Hogwash! Hee! And I think this right here is the problem with trying to write in a particular style to appease some pundit’s view of what proper writing is. Everyone has conflicting opinions and it’s impossible to please everyone.

    -Blanche, Actually, funny enough, using dialogue tags other than said is what’s known as using “swifties” and is highly frowned upon as well. Said is far preferred to things like shouted, growled, cried, etc.

  4. 2nd person narrative is where it’s at…I wrote a short story in 2nd person for one of my more advanced creative writing classes in college and the teacher was all over it….I think it would be hard to keep up through a whole novel though. First person is lovely though, and I will never understand why someone would say otherwise.

  5. -Delisa, Second person sounds like so much fun!!! I’ve never played around with it but I’m not surprised your teacher ate it up. Very few attempt it! I agree it’d be too much for a full novel, but I can easily see it being intriguing for a short story.

  6. The thing for me about point of view is that I feel so much more comforable in first persion, but I have been told that I am better at third and all my favorite books were written in third. It’s a weird world, I guess. I just like being in their head, knowing only what they know. I think the easiest part about writing in first person is that you know exactly what they know, but I don’t think that makes it any worse.

  7. -Lexi, I think first person is easiest in general, because that’s how we’re wired to think. It’s more difficult to put yourself in someone else’s head. I always struggle to convey the protagonist’s thoughts in third person.

  8. Hmm. I have not heard the rule that first person is considered déclassé. However, you can probably always find a “rule” that condemns or applauds whatever it is you’re doing, or want to do. E.g., I recently read Edith Wharton’s memoir, wherein she relates that she was told early on to “always” start a story with dialogue.

    So these sorts of random rules are nothing new. Which is comforting, in a way.

    My thought: A really good book teaches you how to read it in the first few pages—after which you no longer even notice the POV, tense, etc.

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