Saturday, November 23, 2013

First, Second, and Third Person

I think Rishona asked this question, but I can't remember for sure. I've been getting a number of questions lately.
Anyway, here goes . . . Mrs. Marlow, what is the difference between writing in first person, second person, and third person? 

"Person" is how your main character tells the story.

1. "First" person is "I." For example, all of the stories I write here on the blog as "Ranch Stories" are written in first person. I pretend I am Andi, and I write as if she were telling the story: "I've always wanted to go on a cattle drive." First person stories are fun, but they are very limiting. For sure, if I use "I," I can never, ever mention what anybody is doing that I can't see or hear. First person is intimate. It makes you feel like you are that person. The reader can really get inside the character's head when you write in first person. A first person character can talk to herself in the narrative too. I originally wrote Dangerous Decision in first person, and I liked it. But it is not the usual way to write fiction for that age group, so I changed it to . . .

2. "Third" person. All of the Circle C Adventures and Goldtown books are written in third person. So are most of the stories we read, like Little House, Anne of Green Gables, LOTR, and Narnia, to name a few. It is the most common way to write a story. When I write, I say "Andi" instead of "I." Third person is not as personal as first person, but it is very easy to write. You can still get inside the character's head by using italics, and you can narrate what the character is feeling too. Please, however, don't "head hop." This means switching from one character's thoughts and feelings to another character's in the same scene. That is a big NO-NO. For example:

       Andi sighed. What a long day this is. I wonder when Cory will be able to race.
       Cory saw Andi sigh. I'm sure I will be finished working soon, and then we can ride, he thought.

Do not do this! Do not hop from one character's head to the other! The story can be told from only one person's point of view at a time. Create a scene break or a new chapter before switching character's on readers.
Note: Books like Narnia and LOTR do switch points of view all the time. It is the "old" way of writing, something called "omniscient" point of view, where the reader is looking down on the entire story at once and knows what every character is thinking. Like watching a DVD. There is nothing really wrong with it, but it is not as personal. Nowadays, publishers do not look for those kinds of stories much.

3. "Second" person. No modern fiction author really uses second person. A few old-fashioned authors from the 1800s sometimes stuck it into their narratives, but it has a tendency to snatch a reader from the story. This is the "Dear Reader" approach, where the author "talks" to the reader:

"Now, you would think that Alice would have learned her lesson by now. However, you will soon see that she did not."

Second person is "you," and you can easily see how the author could start sounding preachy and tell the reader what he/she should be learning from the story. Try to avoid second person in a fiction story. Save the "you" form to give somebody instructions on how to make bread or something. In a story, it is much better to let the reader figure things out through the action and characterizations in the story. Don't preach to your readers! 

 photo MrsM_zpsa9f216b8.png


  1. Thanks for posting, Mrs. Marlow! It helps me understand the different points of view really well!

  2. I'm pretty sure I asked the question. Thanks for answering it!

    1. I don't remember if i asked it. So probably Audrey did! I know i asked when you indent. But I don't think i asked this question!
      Oh, sooooo glad you finished the first book!

  3. I have never written a 2nd person story. I like both first and third though. :)

  4. So, is it better to have a third-person story focus on ONE person than multiple people?
    I've never written a first person story. I always thought the "I" was for a journal type book. :)

    1. I suppose that would depend on what you were writing. I like writing where I have a few main characters and I switch between them all. (Not in the same paragraph though. :) ) I think that gives a broader feel to the story. I can also show what other characters are dealing with during a situation. (My book "The Unexpected Request" has 3 main characters and so does my new series "Triple Creek Ranch.")
      I have written some stories where there is ONE main character and I don't tell the thoughts or feelings of the others. Personally, I think it's a matter of preference. Some like books one way, some another.

      Think of first person more as you telling someone a story of what happened to you. (Pretend you went camping in the mountains and your backpack straps broke and fell into a canyon. : ) )

  5. Good answer, Rebekah. Thanks! Also, Nathan, you have read some first-person stories. The Hunger Games is first person, as are the sequels. I like first person IF I like the character.

    As far as switching between the characters, so far--for middle-grade--I have not attempted it (as much as I like doing it). It is not usually welcomed for kids' books. HOWEVER, the new series is YA, and so I plan to switch points of view when I feel it can add to the richness of the story . . . something readers need to know that Andi will not be able to know. We will see how it works.

    Switching POVs is like watching a TV episode. "Meanwhile, back on the ranch . . ." LOL

  6. That's neat Mrs. M! :)
    hey, what is the average cost to have a book published?
    thanks! :)

    1. Self publish or with a publishing house?
      Self Publishing will depend on the size of your book. I use CreateSpace and even if I have black and white pictures it really doesn't cost much at all! I can get my new book (225 pages) for a little under $4.00 plus shipping. Of course the shipping goes down the more books your order.
      You can also publish a book on Amazon Kindle for free if you know how to make the book into a Kindle format. :)
      For publishing with a Publishing House, you'll have to let Mrs. M. answer that. :)

      Hope that helps. :)

    2. I think it did help, thanks!! :D

    3. I am answering this in a post tomorrow. I would have posted it today, but we were on the road . . .

  7. How much older is Riley than Andi? I know in the circle c beginners andi is 6 when riley is 9 so is it 3 years? Or 2?

  8. I've used all of these! I use 1st person for my "story teller books", 3rd person in my normal books, and 2nd person in my old-style books.
    Thanks for the great post!
    ~ JT

  9. Mrs. M what is the pastors name? Thanks

  10. I like to use first and third person best in my stories...go figure. :)


Let Andi know what you think!