1st person vs. 3rd person

I used to be sort of worried that Tacita is written in 1st person. I thought, what good books are written in 1st person? Don’t people really dislike stories that are written that way? Will it have less of a chance of getting published? But then I remembered that there are LOADS of novels written in 1st person. So I took 20 books off my bookshelf and had a look at which ones were written in which person…

9 of them were written in 3rd person, and 11 in 1st person. What can we see from that? 1st person IS actually popular. But I noticed that most of the 1st person books were YA/teen fiction. I wonder why…?

Then I thought, that’s good. But are there any FAMOUS books that are in 1st person? I thought there were no classic novels, or really well-known books that were written in 1st person. So does that mean that Tacita will not become well-known? NO!!! How about The Hunger Games series, and practically ALL of the Sherlock Holmes stories? (I would say all of them, but I think there is one in the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes that is written by a different narrator, but you COULD count that as first person too…) They are written in 1st person, and I’d say they are pretty well-known books!

But what’s the difference between the two? Apart from the obvious I/(s)he, writing in either person does make the story different. 1st person is used to get inside a character’s head and see what they’re thinking. Tacita is quite a reflective character, so it made sense for the story to be in her point of view. That way we get a lot closer to her character. If it were written in 3rd person, it would be a lot more distant and we would not get to hear what she thought about everything that’s happening. There’s a drawback to using first person, however: you can’t see what’s happening in other parts of the ‘world’ if your character is not actually there. And your character could have some wrong information, or we could see everything through their eyes and get a biased view, perhaps. We basically have to rely on our character to tell us stuff, and it may not be all right. But if there is a mystery involved, it’s good because the reader learns stuff at the same time as the character, like Dr Watson in Sherlock Holmes. We only learn who did the crime after Sherlock tells him, so it’s a surprise to both Watson AND us! 

3rd person is for more general novels, so you can go and focus on many different characters. That doesn’t mean there is no main character, but you have a bigger range of perspectives, so you can look at other characters apart from your protagonist. But the disadvantage is that you can’t get really, really close to a character, and see what they’re thinking at a certain time, unless you go “‘blah blah blah’, she thought.” which can sometimes sound a bit weird or forced. 

So overall the two perspectives offer different options for your story, and there ARE many famous books in 1st person. I can’t really imagine Tacita in third person, but then I can’t imagine The Three Musketeers in first person.

Can you think of any more famous books written in 1st person?

Your writy blogger, Jaz


2 comments on “1st person vs. 3rd person

  1. One downside to writing in the first person is that the reader KNOWS from the beginning that the hero/heroine survives ! So, no matter how awful the torture, how frightening the threat and how worrying the suspense, the reader knows that all will be well in the end.

    • That’s a good point, but it is not always true! In the book Before I Die, the main character dies in the end (I believe), and it is written in first person! But that is one example. But it is also quite reassuring if you really like the main character, knowing they won’t die. Then again, it can take some of the tension away– but actually, the main character COULD survive til the end, but at a great cost, like they lose everyone they loved, or they get seriously injured, or something else like that.

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