What do you think of these two sentences? “She walked to the store.” or “I walked to the store.” Is there any significant different between these sentences, or any reason to choose one over the other?
This is a highly debated topic among writers. Most writers subscribe to the ‘safe’ and conventional method of telling a story in third person, that is, “She walked to the store” rather than “I“.
But recently, especially in YA fiction and with the rise of several best-selling books using first person, third person has been somewhat pushed aside by first person. Does that mean first person is better, or is it just a fad like everything else?
First of all, let me say I do not think one is better than another overall, but in each individual case, I do believe there is often a better choice. Why? Well, there’s a lot of varying factors, ranging from the feel of the book to the narrative in it. First person is much more like someone telling you a story, or as if you are seeing the world the character sees translated into “I” this and “I” that. In a way, it’s like those really old computer games where you can’t see anything, but you type in commands and it tells you what you ‘see’ and consequently ‘do’. Except, instead of “You”, it would be “I”.
Another factor that I have personally found decides which POV view I will use is more of a personal reason, based on the character’s personalities. Think about it. If your main character is the shyest person ever who won’t even open up to anyone, it doesn’t make much sense for them to be so open about basically sharing their whole life with someone, don’t you think? Or, if they have a bunch of terrible secrets they want to keep, first person would probably get infuriating very quickly, as they do their best to avoid thinking about any of their problems.
But, if you have the entertainer-type character or someone who’s incredibly comfortable with sharing their life (even if they still have dark secrets or a hard past, they will probably just hide them with smiles and jokes), or if they’re the type that spills all their thoughts to a journal of sorts, first person might be the way to go. Some of my characters aren’t comfortable with everyone knowing their every personal thought; some are. Again, it’s based on the individual cases.
Another argument about these two POV forms is that one is more personal than the other. Some believe third person is; some believe first is. Again, I think it’s much more complex than that, and depends not only on the writer’s skill and style, but the individual situations. Third person may be more personal for your novel’s character, while first may be for mine.
Dailen from my work-in-progress novel Dragons’ Bane is much more of a private person who doesn’t like to share what’s on his mind much. Lena, though she is a rather introverted person, almost has to spill her thoughts in one way or another, either to herself by mulling it over, or more happily, spilling her thoughts to a journal, even though the thought of anyone else seeing that mortifies her to no end. She still prefers first person, though, because it’s like her spilling her thoughts as if to a journal. 🙂
And, of course, there is then also the debate of whether to use present or past tense, which is an entirely different blog post. I thought I’d figured out which I was going to use, but I’ve begun having second thoughts. Lena prefers to speak in first person present now rather than past, and I’m not sure whether to oblige her or not. So, for your review, a small paragraph from Lena, first in present, then in past tense. Let me know which you like more, if there’s truly any difference.
“I eye Dailen suspiciously as he orders us food from the counter. He seems like a nice guy, but I’ve learned the hard way not to trust people. They always have a hidden agenda, or something they want in return for being around you.
This is still part of a first draft, so it’s probably not as good as it could be, haha. Hopefully, however, you can get a feel for the different tenses and how they affect the story.
Now, the big question. Which do you think is better?