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First or Third? (Perspective)

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Why do we read? I have said here that we read to learn, to experience new places, to explore new worlds and meet extraordinary people we can never really meet because they are imaginary. Fiction can contain more truth than a book of facts and much of that truth comes from characters.

But how do we learn about a character? Of course, we learn through their actions, thoughts and dialogue. I am going to summarize and call this how near we are to a character. Main characters, we hear a great deal about their thoughts and motivations goals and actions. We are close to them. We don’t feel as close to tertiary characters because they don’t get screen time and don’t tell us much of what they think. While they may be memorable, we rarely get the nearness that is akin to friendship with them possible in writing. (I knew of at least two characters growing up I would have called "friends," after a silly fashion. They had that much influence over me.)

This brings me to the title of the short piece today. First person reading, or third person? I have not spent much time in my reading life with first person perspective books. In first person the narrative is locked to the mind of one person, told from the “I,” viewpoint. While books can shift perspective throughout, when we spend time in first person, we should feel closer than other views. Right? We can hear every pertinent thought. So why is it that I still prefer third person?

Baring tricks by the author where they don’t have the character think about certain things, or write them as deliberately mechanical and aloof, I should feel like first person would better fill the need for closeness. However, I have the experience that first person stories get away with more weakness in writing than third person books do. They tell over show because we are in fact being told a story. The proximity to the character makes them feel real, and in turn the quality of the writing may slip due to the familiarity imposed by being in the characters head.

This may not be everyone’s experience with first person books, and I enjoy writing in first person, so I will be exploring more first-person authors in the near future.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the quality feel of my favorite third person authors while I seek out new reads.

How about you? Are you a first- or third-person perspective fan? Which do you read most? Do you find that your favorite genre’s lead to more of one over the other? Leave thoughts in the comments below!

Perspective is everything

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