First vs Third Person Point of View: What Makes Sense for Your Story?

Writing a book or short story? The first decision you will make is the use of the first vs third person point of view. Choose which fits your story best.

When writing a fiction work, point of view is a critical part of the overall writing process. Will your narrator be an omniscient third-party person or limited to a first-person narrative?

While the second-person point of view occasionally shows up in fiction stories, most writers decide between the first vs third-person point of view.

As you plan and outline your story, make sure you nail down the point of view early in the process and keep it consistent throughout. Here is a closer look at the first vs third-person point of view so you can decide the right course for your story.

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First vs Third Person Point of View: Making the Choice

First vs third person what makes sense for your story

Making the choice between the first-person point of view and the third-person point of view in your story requires understanding these two popular choices. Both points of view can benefit your story, so how can you decide which works best?

Defining Point of View

First, you need to know what point of view is. The point of view is the vantage point from which the story is told. The point of view defines how much the narrator is able to share with the reader as well as what bias the narrator has.

Understanding First Person Point of View

The first-person point of view is told from one character's point of view using first-person pronouns like “I,” “me” and “my.” This really lets you get inside the character's head to see what they are thinking.

The first-person point of view often comes from the point of view of the main character, but it can be from a secondary character if that pushes the story forward better.

Either way, the reader is limited to know what the first-person narrator knows, and that can leave interest and intrigue in the story.

First Person Point of View Examples

Literature has several examples of first-person point of view done well. These include:

1. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift: This story is written from the perspective of Gulliver himself.

Gulliver's Travels (Dover Thrift Editions)
  • Jonathan Swift (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages - 09/18/1996 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications (Publisher)

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: This story comes from the point of view of the protagonist and title character, Jane.

Jane Eyre
  • Brontë, Charlotte (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 424 Pages - 12/27/2018 (Publication Date) - SDE Classics (Publisher)

3. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: This short poem comes entirely from the point of view of the speaker, and that increases the mystery of the story.

4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: The author uses a diary form for this series, which naturally creates a need for a first-person narrative.

Sale
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #1)
  • Hardcover Book
  • Kinney, Jeff (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 04/01/2007 (Publication Date) - Harry N. Abrams (Publisher)

Understanding Third Person Point of View

A third-person narrator is often an unknown, all-seeing narrator. This form of writing uses third-person pronouns like “he,” “she” and “they” to refer to the main characters. Two types of third-person point of view exist, which are:

  • Third Person Omniscient Point of View: This narrator knows everything about the story, including things that the main character cannot know.
  • Third-Person Limited Point of View: This narrator often only knows what the main character knows and sees, but still uses third-person to tell the story.

Third-Person Point of View Examples

Some examples of third-person narratives in the literature include:

1. Peter Pan by J.M Barrie: In this classic children's tale, the third-person omniscient narrator shows what is happening to Peter, Wendy, and other characters throughout the story.

Classic Starts®: Peter Pan (Classic Starts® Series)
  • Sterling
  • Hardcover Book
  • Barrie, J. M. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 03/03/2009 (Publication Date) - Sterling Children's Books (Publisher)

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: While Joe may be the central character, the narrator in this story sticks with third-person point of view.

Sale
Little Women (Puffin in Bloom)
  • Puffin Books
  • Hardcover Book
  • Alcott, Louisa May (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 777 Pages - 08/28/2014 (Publication Date) - Puffin Books (Publisher)

3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: This tale is told from a third-person limited POV because Rowling sticks to the actions in and around Harry.

Sale
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1)
  • Scholastic
  • Hardcover Book
  • J.K. Rowling (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 309 Pages - 10/01/1998 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Press (Publisher)

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: This book takes a third-person omniscient point of view to tell the tale from more than one vantage point. 

Sale
Pride and Prejudice
  • Austen, Jane (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 182 Pages - 12/16/2019 (Publication Date) - Independently published (Publisher)

When to Choose First-Person Point of View

Different points of view bring different things to the story, so when should you choose the first-person point of view for your book or story?

The first-person narration gives keep insight into a character's thoughts. If a story is highly introspective, this makes the first-person perspective ideal. 

Telling a story from the main character's perspective can also build empathy and an emotional connection with that character. The reader sees what is going on in the character's head and why the character made particular stories. First-person makes sense when the author wants this type of personal connection.

Drawbacks of the First-Person Point of View 

The main drawback of the first-person POV is the fact that it cannot be an omniscient narrator. The first-person narrator is always limited to his or her own biases and experiences. 

In addition, this can be an unreliable narrator because of those biases and opinions. The reader starts to trust the narrator, and that trust may be based on falsehoods. Sometimes the writer wants that unreliable narrator, but it should only be chosen with a purpose. 

When to Choose the Third-Person Point of View

The third-person perspective is ideal for books and stories that need more than just one character's point of view. If the reader needs to know details that the main character would not be able to know, only third-person POV works.

Similarly, if the writer is telling more than one story that is eventually going to weave together into a cohesive tale, only third-person works.

The Third-person is always the point of view of choice in academic writing. Authors know it is inappropriate to refer to themselves or the reader directly when writing in this professional sense.

Finally, third-person narration gives the writer the ability to show what more than one character is thinking. This can help the reader understand the intricacies and motivations of the story without being limited to just one character's viewpoint. 

Drawbacks of the Third-Person Point of View

That ambiguity can be a drawback of writing in the third-person. The reader cannot see as much of what is going on inside a character's head, and that can limit the emotional connection the reader makes. 

The Final Word on First vs Third Person Point of View

Deciding between first and third-person points of view is something a writer must do before starting to write a story. Many exceptional writers have used both types, so as an author you must consider your motivations in telling the story, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each point of view and choose the one that drives your story best.

Most importantly, keep the point of view consistent throughout the story.

FAQs About First vs Third Person Point of View 

Is it ever appropriate to write with first-person narration?

Yes, first-person narration is highly effective in fiction writing. It is used well in classics like Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby. It is never an appropriate option for academic writing.

Can a writer switch between first and third-person points of view?

This is rarely a good option for the modern writer. Switching points of view usually confuses the reader.

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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