Who Said That? First, Second or Third-Person Point of View

I often have writers ask me which person they should write in, first, second or third. Deciding if a story should be told with “I said, you said or he/she said” can be daunting to many writers.

There are pros and cons to each person. Let me give you some examples so we are all talking about the same thing.

This example comes from a short story of mine called First Blood.

Third Person, also called Omniscient
(This is how it was written for publication.)

“Damn them all to the seven hells of Anthion,” Klempf yelled, as he took another direct hit. His head throbbed from being thrown against the control panel. A small trickle of red blood ran down between his blond eyebrows.

Second Person
“Damn them all to the seven hells of Anthion,” you yelled, as your ship took another direct hit. Your head throbbed from being thrown against the control panel. A small trickle of red blood ran down between your blond eyebrows.

First Person
“Damn them all to the seven hells of Anthion,” I yelled, as my ship took another direct hit. My head throbbed from being thrown against the control panel. A small trickle of red blood ran down between my blond eyebrows.

As you can see, each paragraph has a distinctly different flavor.

Second person is very seldom used in fiction. To me, it seems to be paternal and distancing when someone keeps saying, “You, you, you.”

It lacks involvement of the characters in the story. Don’t get me wrong, it can be used in a story, but it must be done very carefully.

The most frequently used persons are first and third.

First person has the advantage of being very personal. “I did this. I did that.” The reader will know exactly what the character is thinking and what they believe, even if the story shows the character is wrong.

One of the disadvantages is that the reader doesn’t know anything that the character doesn’t know. If a character is standing in one room, he doesn’t know what is happening anywhere else.

You couldn’t say, “Darek stood in the living room, unaware that Jim was in the garden, with a rifle aimed at Darek’s chest.” That would be third person.

Now you could say, “I stood in the living room facing the bay window. A glint of light from something in the garden caught my attention. Too late, I realized the glint came from a rifle scope, the bullet ripped into my chest, and the world darkened.”

This would have to be the end of the story, because there wouldn’t be anyone left to tell the story, unless you have the character’s ghost continue the story.

With first person you must be very careful to stay in each characters head and know only what they know. This can be expanded if you jump from one person to another.

However, you must be sure that the readers know whose head you’re in. It’s easy to confuse the reader, and just a little too much of this will have your reader lost, frustrated and putting your book on the shelf forever.

Third person is the easiest to use; at least that’s what many writers, including myself, think. Third person allows you to know everything.

That’s why it’s also called the omniscient view. You are like a god, and know everything that everyone in the story knows, plus everything going on in their universe.

If you want the reader to know that Jim is in the garden with a gun, you can just say so. You don’t need Jim to shoot, or have someone else see Jim. It allows you to paint your story with a much broader brush.

A good writer can, with a lot of work, combine these different views, but it must be done just right and for a reason. I suggest staying with one view throughout a story, just to make things easier on you, and the reader.

Find out what voice you like to write in. Do what I did above.

Write two or three pages of a story in each person, and see which you enjoy the most, and which sounds most natural to you. Which person you choose may even vary from story to story.

So go out and write. Whatever person you choose to write in is up to you, just be sure to write.

Jeff Colburn is a freelance writer who specializes in business writing, articles and genre fiction. His books, The Writer’s Dictionary Of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Mythology and The Youngest Ninja, can be purchased from his site, The Creative Cauldron. The Creative Cauldron is a site filled with information for writers, photographers, artists and other creative people.