Should I write my novel in the first (1st) Person? Third (3rd) Person?

Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me” first person account of a serial killer.

Trying to decide which reference to write your novel can be a difficult task.  Years ago I recall writing a novel completely in the third person and then deciding that the first person would work well.  What followed was a mess as I attempted to change the “…he said.” to “…I said” etc.  You don’t want to go there.  Instead you should take some time to carefully make your decision BEFORE you write.  Here are some tips on how to decide.

Technically if you’re not sure, you may want to stick with the 3rd person reference.  That is because third person allows you to flexibly maneuver from scene to scene and character to character.  The third person is also the best method for handling a novel with many characters and viewpoints.  If your main character is Mary but your story switches scene to her daughter and presents the story from Mary’s point of view then a third person frame of reference works best.

When to use first person?

First person reviews are critical and sometimes necessary.  Especially if your novel centers mainly around your protagonist.   You should consider first person especially if you need to establish the main character’s state of mind.  In Jim Thompson’s novel “The Killer Inside Me” is an excellent example of how a serial killer thinks and is motivated.

There are times when your novel is centered around a main character and when you would choose to keep the story at a third person reference.  This is done especially if you want to “surprise” the reader with unusual or unnatural actions by the character.  Keeping it to a third person keeps the story at a level of mystery while you convey elements of the story in parts.

Issues with the 1st person frame of reference

There are some inherent challenges a writer faces when attempting to write a novel in the first person.

Primarily, you must understand your character substantially from the perspective of your main character.  This understanding may sometimes require you to put yourself in your character’s “shoes”.  For instance, if you main character is misogynistic you may find it difficult to relate to this character especially if you’re a woman.   Overcoming this challenge could be established by effectively doing a character analysis before beginning your writing.  You need to ensure you have the character’s persona and potential reaction nuances well established.

Another issue which stems from the previous paragraph’s problem is that your own persona can sometimes emerge during your writing.  It can be difficult especially with beginner writers to adequately segregate yourself from the character.

A third issue related to writing in the first person has to do with boring your reader if you do not effectively capture the character’s overall persona.  Especially if you create a character based on a number of character cliche’s that have emerged from writers.  Making your character interesting, unique and reflective of the character’s role should be your main role in writer this novel.

For more information please check out the YouTube video on this subject:


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