Person refers to how the point-of-view (POV) character tells the story—in first, second, or third person. I’ll explore the three options in deep POV (DPOV).
First Person – Using “I”
A character invites us into his thoughts. This character could be:
- The protagonist
- A supporting character who tells the story of another character.
- Multiple characters telling parts of the story.
- Characters share sequentially, staying within the story’s timeline.
- Or each character tells his/her version of the same story events.
I turned the corner on Main. Alana stood at a cruiser, talking to the police. I followed the busybody to Melissa’s house and listened through the open window as Alana told her I had stolen Melissa’s passport. I ran my hand over my face. Would she believe Alana and send her buff boyfriend to kill me?
The open window seems convenient, but first person creates intimacy between the character and us, and we tend to accept what he tells us.
To learn what happened privately between Melissa and Alana, “I” had to eavesdrop.
We only know what “I” sees, hears, and believes. “I” wouldn’t naturally reveal his name or information about his looks or personality.
Melissa’s boyfriend won’t kill “I” because “I” tells the story.
Sometimes using first person, the author slips into sounding like herself. “I” is a male, and wouldn’t say buff.
Second Person – Using “you”
A character tells the story addressing us directly. The author seeks to involve us as if we’re the protagonist.
Substitute “you” for “I” in the example above. First-person disadvantages apply to second person. We may also feel as if the character is demanding our attention. We’re usually ready to be emotionally involved with characters without the “you” viewpoint.
Second person is rarely used and seldom works for children. It’s difficult for the author to maintain throughout an entire novel.
Third Person– Using “he/she”
A character tells the story from a slight distance. But third person DPOV can easily provide multiple characters and their perspectives.
Example (for brevity, I’ve used some “telling”)
Scene 1 excerpt:
Karl turned the corner on Main. Alana stood at a cruiser, talking to the police. Who was the busybody getting into trouble now?
Scene 2 excerpts:
A. Melissa paced her living room. Who’d stolen her passport? Right when she needed to disappear.
B. Melissa opened the door to Alana. Lines wrinkled her forehead, and her eyes misted. Oh no. Here came bad news.
Alana blurted that Karl had stolen the passport.
Melissa’s heart sank.
Scene 3 excerpt:
Karl ordered a soda.
Melissa entered and strode to his table. “You stole my passport. I want it back.”
Karl’s heart flipped. So that’s what Alana had told the police—and Melissa. He ran his hand over his face. If he told her the truth, would she believe him or send her boyfriend to kill him?
We have two characters to supply information, mystery, and feelings from their perspectives. We have Karl’s name. And his death is a possibility.
How to Know Which Person to Use
- Write a scene in each person option.
- Have someone read the samples to you. Which version sounds right?
- Send the samples to your critique partners for their feedback.
- Experts suggest novice writers employ third person until they’re more seasoned.
First, second, and third person viewpoints—advantages and disadvantages. Click to tweet.
What person POVs do you write in and why?
Good post, Zoe. This is crucial info for the beginning writer.
I have stayed with third person most of the time. However, I started a book in first person, then used third for another POV, but ended up switching the first to third in that one, too. (I haven’t finished that manuscript, and may still play with the unusual switching when I get back to it. It’s not usually accepted practice, so I have to be sure it really works.)
Hi Jane, you give a great example of testing for which person works best for you story. I’m glad you mentioned the case of having a first-person character and a third person character telling the story in the same novel. I appreciate that you caution us that it is unusual and we need to make sure it works.