Thursday, February 27, 2014

Should I Write in the 1st of 3rd Person?

This week, 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block is free on the Kindle. To celebrate that fact, we're going to look at some of the basic questions new writers ask. In this post, perspective is the name of the game.

Should I write in the 1st or 3rd person?

It's a question a lot of new writers ask themselves. Sometimes, they might not even know the difference. So first, some clarity:

The 1st person consists of the narrator telling the story from his or her own perspective. For example: "I walked to school", "It occurred to me", "The world is mine".

The 3rd person consists of the narrator telling the story from an outsider's perspective. For example: "John walked to school", "It occurred to Jane", "As far as Alex was concerned, the world was his".

There is the less-used 2nd person to consider, in which the narrator is telling the reader everything they're doing. For example: "You walked to school", "It occurred to you", "The world is yours". However, it's a more difficult perspective to get right, and the least popular among readers.

As to whether or not you write in the past or present tense, that's up to you. The past tense is most commonly used, even when referring to events that take place in the future (the narrator is, after all, referring to it as a history). However, the present tense can still be used to great affect. Darren Shan, a Irish children's author, writes predominantly in the present tense, and in the first person, keeping the interest of the reader by making the risks real and in the moment.

But which should you choose between 1st or 3rd person?

Personally speaking, I stick to 3rd person. I like to show the reader who my characters are from the outside, as they might see them if they met on the street. It also allows me to switch between characters in the story, to show the various sides of what are inevitably stories more complicated than who's right and who's wrong. (Taking a published example into account: Fionn in Balor Reborn can be perceived as the "hero", but that doesn't mean that Stephen - the other predominant character the narrative follows - is the "villain", even considering the events that happen in the story.) 

That's the big advantage of the 3rd person: you can show more than one point of view to the events of a story.

When it comes to the 1st person, you get inside a single character's head more than you would otherwise. While you can't jump around to different places in the story without dragging your protagonist along with you, you are granted a more consistent observation on the events of your book, open to speculation, commentary and doubt by your narrator.

The main concern you should take into account is this: do I need to show more than one perspective in my book? While some authors switch characters between chapters, it's not common practice when writing in the first person (and only lends itself to two or three points of view in that case.) Look at your favourite books to see which way it's done, think about the story you want to tell, and make your decision based on those observations.

(Note: Don't let your desire to write like another author determine which point of view you write from. Write from the perspective that best suits your story.)

Find out more about 25 Ways to Beat Writer's Block below:

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? Have you sat at your desk, looking at your work in progress, wondering what to do with a character who just won’t budge, or a poem that just won’t take form, or an article that just won’t work for you? Have you ever joined thousands of authors in the search for a way to beat writer’s block? 

From the author of Planning Before Writing comes a solution to the problem of writer’s block: 25 ways to tackle one of the biggest issues facing writers, each with an exercise to help you to develop as an author and improve your writing skills. 

With exercises to suit every writer, and drawing on over ten years’ experience in the craft, 25 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block is a must-have reference for your collection.

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