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1st, 2nd or 3rd Person Narrative?

This is one that always baffles me when I make a feeble attempt at writing a book. First person, second person, or third person narrative. Which one to choose? Each one has their advantages.

First Person is very popular and always has been. This is when the narrator is the central character and tells the story from their point of view. When reading a book with first person narrative, there’s an instant connection between reader and character – like a gateway. They become almost inseparable, and to me there’s no doubt that this form of writing, if possible, is the best in most circumstances in terms of character development. First person narrative takes the reader into the mind of the character, not just into the surroundings of the character.

Second Person is probably the most bizarre and underused narrative mode that is used in literature today. Although used is a strong word, seeing as absolutely nobody writes with this form. For those of you wondering what this form is, it’s where the narrator refers to one of the characters as “you”, which I suppose makes the reader feel like the narrator is somehow a part of the plot and in the story.

Third Person is, in my opinion at least, the easiest narrative forms to write with. This is where the narrator simply tells the story of what happened to characters. There is no connection between narrator and story. This is hugely popular in modern day novels, and is a very good technique if the writer is trying to tell what is primarily a very exciting story.

It’s not easy to decide what form of narrative to use in writing, in my experience. They all seem like good ways of telling a story, but how do you know which will be the best for you? The last thing you want to happen is that you write your novel, and then say… “Well actually, first person narrative would have been better…”

I think the main question a writer must ask themselves is this. Do you know your character well enough for first person narrative? Would you be able to write out a list of situations your protagonist could find themselves in and know exactly what your character would do to rectify them? First person takes a lot of research and knowledge about the character, because not only are you writing about the character, you have to become the character.

And then if you’re writing in third person, do you have a plot that’s exciting enough to carry events? Do you feel sometimes that your novel is more of a character study with different events happening around them? If so, then first person may be the way forward for you.

In my own experience, however, a good book is a good book because its characters are so believable and so three-dimensional, that after a while, they themselves begin to shape events, and plot synopsis’ just fly out the window.

What are your thoughts on the different narrative forms? Which is your favourite and why?

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4 comments on “1st, 2nd or 3rd Person Narrative?

  1. I find first person the easiest to write in.

  2. I agree that second person is terribly underused, but with it being one of the hardest types to actually connect someone to the story, it’s rare if ever that it’s done right.

    Third person would be a tad harder to write effectively, I think, since to make it work right and let the reader connect to the story you would have to be descriptive of your characters, but revealing things about them only when appropriate, which would prevent it sounding like a character description. An advantage to it would be that you can have a bit more freedom with what you write, and it can allow for more complex storytelling.

    From what I have read, first person is the most popular format to go with, and in a lot of cases I think it would be easier to write, since it would be like writing a diary.

    A rare type would actually be a hybrid between first and Third person, usually done when the character or characters would be in a position where they would be unable to tell the plot effectively.

    Being honest, my favorite would be third person, since you can choose what character you relate to the most. Although if you are writing a story where the reader is supposed to hate the main character, this can be a downside…

    If you ever wrote or will write a book, I would love to read it since you do seem to have an affinity for writing interesting things. If you haven’t written anything already, I do recommend you to at least try a few short story’s, and just see how people like them.

    • Hi Declan, thanks very much for the comment! I really appreciate your input. I agree that second person is very underused. It’s one that I’d love to learn how to do purely becase it’s so underused. I see where you’re coming from with the third person thing, I think it’s certainly the best in terms of storytelling. Hopefully I will write a book one day, and hopefully you will read it! Thanks again :)

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