WRITING ADVICE: 1st or 3rd person POV

I asked on my social media what people would most like to see from me here. The answer was pretty unanimous: writing advice. So here it is. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover here.

Now for today’s question: choosing the right narrative voice for the novel. 1st person or 3rd person POV?

From a reader’s perspective, there’s the personal preference, of course. But for a writer? The choice of voice is a crucial one.

In terms of your genre, in the first place, it’s worth asking what is the primary driver of the novel. In a fast-paced plot-driven story, the 3rd person narrative often makes more sense. It allows the writer to occasionally zoom in and out, getting closer to the character’s thoughts and emotions when necessary, but it also allows us to introduce the elements that the characters themselves might not notice or be aware of.

There’s a whole number of styles available within the 3rd person narrative. You can have the omniscient voice, high above the characters, or walk hand in hand with them, observing their every emotion. You can opt for a feigned neutrality, stripping away the adverbiage and the emotion, so nothing but the story is felt.

In the face of such a variety of options, why would you opt for the 1st person POV? 

There are some situations where the story won’t work without the more intimate knowledge of the character’s inner life. Where that inner life IS the story, in all the ways that count. Where the question of their perception, of their reliability and biases, creates the very heart of the book.

Those questions (and more I haven’t yet thought of) are what we should be asking ourselves when starting a story. Whose story is it and how much does their perception truly matter? How can we best bring out the feelings and atmosphere we’re aiming for?

That decision might often be instinctive, but it is not simple.

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