Your writer’s voice is one of the most important parts of writing. It must be a consistent voice throughout a story to avoid confusion for the reader. Two of the most common voices that are used for storytelling are the first person voice and the third person voice.
In the first person vs third person debate, which voice is better to use? There really isn’t an easy answer to that question. It depends on the story you’re trying to tell, how comfortable you are as a writer with a specific voice, and what you want the reader to take away from the narrative.
Here are some of the key points that you’ll want to consider.
#1. First person writing is very personal.
If you’re writing a story in first-person voice, then a primary character is telling the story. It’s a personal story, using singular pronouns such as “I” or “me.” You’d also see “my,” “mine,” or “we.” You’re creating a 1-to-1 dialogue with the reader as the writer with this voice.
For example: I took the van out for a drive this morning. When I got to the stop sign in my neighborhood, a car turned the wrong way and almost hit me! I cursed at them silently as they proceeded to keep driving the wrong way, oblivious to the harm they were about to cause.
#2. Third person writing is more cinematic.
If you’re writing a story in third-person voice, then you’re giving the reader more of an omniscient view of the world you’ve created. The story can still be very personal, but instead of it being a 1-to-1 dialogue, it is offered in more of a generalized format for everyone to experience.
For example: He took the van out for a drive this morning. When he got to the stop sign in his neighborhood, a car turned the wrong way and almost hit him! John cursed at them silently as the driver kept driving the wrong way, oblivious to the harm they were about to cause.
#3. First person is an instinctive form of writing.
Many writers find that the first-person voice is the easier point of view to create a narrative. The story unfolds naturally in a chronological way in this voice because the writer is telling it as they experience it personally. This is a great way to convey a direct emotional response to a reader. The only problem with first person writing is that it is difficult to convey additional insights to the reader. Only the narrator’s direct thoughts and feelings can be included.
#4. Third person is a direct overview perspective.
And this is why many writers feel like they struggle at third-person voice. It’s because they have to provide a complete world view of their narrative for the reader to understand what is going on. The advantage is that thoughts and feelings for all characters can be included within the story. The disadvantage is that all of these thoughts and feelings must make sense within the scope of the narrative.
#5. First person voice tends to force your hand to create narrative movement.
Most first-person stories involve unreal situations that a character will either see or overhear and that is how conflict is created. You might even find the first-person character in their worst-case scenario or somehow finding out about things that are required to move the plot along. This creates a stilted feeling to the narrative, which can drive even an interested reader away from the finish.
#6. Third person voice requires multiple viewpoints.
This is why many writers, especially beginning writers, automatically shift over to the first-person voice. Incorporating multiple viewpoints is a skill that needs to be developed over time. Simply shifting to first-person because you want to only deal with the primary character of your story, however, means you’re writing more in the second-person voice instead. That’s because you want to give credibility to that one character and are placing all of the value of the story into that one component.
If you’re struggling with the first person vs third person voice and what to use for your writing, then the voice you don’t want to use is the one outside of your comfort zone. So make yourself more comfortable with it. Read books in that voice. Try having conversations in that voice. With more exposure, you’ll be more likely to use it in a natural way when you write.
Most stories are in the third-person, but that doesn’t mean a first-person story has little value. By determining the outcome you want for the reader, you’ll know which voice to use.