Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First Person or Third Person Point of View - Which Provides A More Emotional Read


Having submitted dreaded book two, A Cornish Affair, I’m filled with worry. Not because I don’t like the story, I do. But worry because it is a very different story. A Cornish Affair is an adventure/romantic suspense type story and therefore very different from The Cornish House. This I am told by some is not a bad thing….I’m not so sure.

It has had me wondering about something though…the story is not as ‘emotional’. And I’m wondering if this is because it is written in first person. Now bear with me because this seems counter intuitive. I've always thought if a book was in first person I would ‘feel’ more - after all we are in one character’s head. We feel their emotions.

But strangely I am beginning to thing it does the opposite…I recently finished The Girl I Left Behind by JoJo Moyes and I loved it. The book had me from page one…I was gripped by the story, which as it opens is told in first person and is set in 1916 occupied France. The second half of the book in set in ‘modern’ time and is told in third person. Now here’s the interesting bit…although gripped by the story in the first half I wasn’t as emotionally connected as I was in the second…and I don’t think this was because of the time difference. The actual facts of the story in set 1916 were on the face much more tear provoking…

This set me wondering…did this happen with all first person stories I had read and did it apply to the one I’d just written. This week I also read the wonderful debut of Liz Harris, The Road Back…told in third person. I was moved to tears at points.

So I’m wondering if first person in a way sets up a strange distance. It’s like the wall the character puts up to protect themselves applies to the reader and isn’t there in third person. Or maybe it’s just me.

What do you think? It’s not that I haven’t loved stories told in first person, I have but thinking of them I haven’t been quite as emotionally caught up. (Note: I'm reading When God Was A Rabbit at the moment and loving it...pages effortlessly turning but I'm not getting the emotional kick i should be considering some of the stuff I'm reading) What is your favourite first person story and did it leave you weeping or dry-eyed?


13 comments:

catdownunder said...

Someone suggested I rewrite the first book I submitted and put it in the first person. It would not have worked for a number of reasons but I then did something I thought I would never do - I wrote the second book in the first person.
I prefer third person when I am reading. I find first person harder to read and first person, present tense almost impossible to read. I also know I prefer to write in the third person. It feels more flexible.
But, I eagerly await your second book!

liz fenwick said...

It's really interesting Cat...I had never written in first person until NaNo two years ago...and I felt very strongly that ACA should be in first person - instinct I guess.

Like I you I prefer to read in third person...mostly but as DubaiWrter pointed out on Twitter...first person can be funnier...

lx

JO said...

I don't think there's one 'rule' - some stories need the third person, others the first. Sometimes I play with POV till it feels right, other stories seem to have made their own mind up before I begin to write them. As for reading - providing the POV is consistent, and works, then I'm happy reading either. And both can work on an emotional level if well written.

Jane Henry said...

I agree with Jo, stories come the way they need to come. However, with my editor's hat on, I would never recommend a first time author to write first person, as very often, they haven't found their voice, so the character just becomes a cipher of their own thoughts/feelings etc, and the story is one sided. I'd urge people to learn their craft first using multiple viewpoints and then experiment.

I wonder with the Jo Jo Moyes' book whether the fact that she has used the present tense for the third person viewpoint draws you in more. It certainly feels very immediate and that you are sharing Liv's experiences. Again, wouldn't recommend doing that until you know what you are doing, which of course Jo Jo does. I was in pieces at the end of Me Before You, which is told in the first person, so I think maybe it's the story that engages you more, rather then viewpoint.

My favourite author is Margaret Atwood, and she breaks all the rules all the time, skipping between viewpoints and tenses and I am never anything other then engrossed in her books, because she is a magnificent storyteller. I guess, at the end of the day, that's the key!

Rebecca Alexander said...

I'm with Jo, here. I tried to write my historical character (my book has a 16th century strand) in third person, to match the contemporary strand, but he wouldn't shut up. It helped me to have him yammering in my ear, as if he was telling me the story as he lived through it. If the story tells itself to you in first person, then go with it!

liz fenwick said...

Wow, fantastic comments. JO, I agree with you that the story will eventually find it's voice.

Jules - it says something that I hadn't noticed the JoJo's story was told in the third present...I haven't read Me Before You yet...it sounds like it will blow my thinking out of the water...

Rebecca - I loved that your character was going to have his way!

lx

Nell Dixon said...

I like reading both and love writing both. For me when I'm writing I find 1st person more emotional as I connect very strongly with my heroines.

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Nell...I like writing both but think I become more emotional with third and can't figure out why as it goes against what it should be...

Debs Carr said...

I don't think I have a preference between the two and think it depends on what's right for the story. I'm sure A Cornish Affair will be wonderful, Liz, and can't wait to read it.x

Shaz Goodwin said...

As a reader, 1st person can get boring although that's not always the case! I do prefer third person because then I get involved with all the characters and so it becomes everyone's story to tell ...

chillcat said...

Interesting post and I do agree - the story almost imposes its frame and voice, it's the telling that is important. Congratulations on handing over Book Two! I'm a little sad 'August Rock' had to go as I like that title very much, but I'm sure 'A Cornish Affair' will be beautiful. Best, xcat

Captain Black said...

I think it's possible to get a deeper point of view, and therefore a more emotional read, when a character is written in the first person. However, as Jane Henry rightly points out, the writer must find a voice for the character and not allow too much author intrusion. I'm personally not good at this which is why, after much experimentation, I now tend to use third person. Having said that, I do revert back to first person for some of my shorter works, as I think it's a faster way to get the reader into the character's head.

From a purely mechanical angle, there are some things that are impossible (or at least very difficult) to do when using the first person. For example, writing scenes where the main character is not present! Something that's possibly more likely for an author to want to do, depending on genre they're writing in. Some of my crime thrillers would have been extremely difficult to pull off, if I'd written the MC in the first person.

As for tenses, I tried using the present tense and I actually really enjoy writing that way. However, the results often seemed to have a rather "contrived" feel to them. Perhaps that's just my lack of skill showing through, but these days I tend to stick to third person. Just out of interest, has anyone had any experience with writing in the second person?

Good luck with #2, Liz, however you decide to implement it.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

As a reader not a writer I do not think I have a preference. If the writing is good and the story draws me in I am not really concerned about the tense it is written in, both can be equally emotional.