One of the first decisions to be made when you sit down to write fiction is:

Shall I write in first, second or third person? The choice you make here is important to the effectiveness of your story.

First person is “I” or “We”.

Second person is “You”.

Third person is He, She, It, They”.

First person is used for a personal story, for sharing an experience you have had. You could also choose to use it for a purely fictional story, to make it feel more immediate. More about that later.

Second person is not often used in fiction. It’s common, though, in articles or blogs that tell you how to do something. “First you do this, then you do that and lastly you tie a big red bow on top of it.” “You” makes it more personal and immediate than saying “The widget goes on top of the lower bar”.

Third person is most generally used in the fiction you pick up in the library or buy from a book shop.

“Francesca swooned gracefully into his arms, her face pale. He lifted her gently to…”

You can see that writing that in the first person might cause questions in your family. “I swooned gracefully into his arms, my face pale. He lifted me gently to…”

Third person is the workhorse of most fiction. Writing in the third person you cannot get into any one person’s mind, but you can show all of the action. You are free to show almost anything anywhere in a “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” kind of way.

The downside of third person is that you can’t feel the feelings of any one person. You can show them – “Her shoulders drooped in despondency” or “He ran up the stairs two at a time and reached eagerly for the door knob.”

But third person cannot give you the deeper layers of feeling or of mixed feelings.  For this you need first person story telling.

There’s a reason that first person stories go over so well. It’s because they have the immediacy and power of the feelings behind the actions. We don’t just understand and enjoy the story, we ‘get’ the underlying emotion.

If the underlying feelings don’t matter much, if it’s all about the action and what happens next, then third person is both easiest to write and most effective.

But if your story is about feelings – if you want to demonstrate mixed feelings, if you want to show why someone did something that seems almost incomprehensible, if you want to focus on this person’s depth of love or fear or hatred – then first person is the way to go.

If you are uncertain, try the story both ways and see which feels right to you. There is no “correct” way. Just the most effective way to get your story across.

Advertisements