1st Person or 3rd?

I have always found it interesting what narrative writers chose for their stories.  As a child, I steered away from anything that was first person.  I would look inside, see “I” and put it back.  Why?  To be honest, I still can’t even tell you.  And I’ve really thought about it long and hard.  Why would I not want to read a book in first person?  Especially since I lean toward it in my own writing style?  Was it too personal?  Too limited?  Too emotional?  I don’t know.

But it does open up a bigger question that isn’t far off:  Why write first person?  Why write third person?  What makes that choice?  (I’ll leave out present vs past for now, since that’s a whole other topic).

As a younger writer, I stuck to third exclusively.  I wanted to be able to dip into other characters, perhaps even other moments. Seeing everything through one character was daunting, intimidating, and I felt trapped.  This, of course, was my fear as a writer.  What if my point of view character wasn’t fully developed?  What if I hated them?  What if they were boring?  Yep.  All of that is fear.

I don’t know when it changed.  I just began writing in first person.  Perhaps, as I grew as a performer developing narratives for characters in my head to give better performances, I grew as a writer as well.  I like to think they go hand-in-hand.  Perhaps, it was a professor that told me to “show, not tell.”  It became easier to avoid that “tell” crutch if I was in someone else’s head.  Limiting me meant that the storytelling became tighter, more active, and less passive, relying on being the all-knowing writer to “tell” the story.

This doesn’t, however, mean that I don’t write in third person.  Focusing so much on one, as I have recently, has made my third person storytelling lazy, sloppy.  It’s important to do both.  Granted, I like to keep it centered on one character or another instead off the all-knowing third person narrator, but all the same…  suddenly, third person is hard.  I feel disconnected, and if I disconnect, being an ENFP, I lose focus.  Third person has become, for me, short story format.  And that’s okay.

Because I read first, and third, present and past, active and passive.  I’ve grown to appreciate and respect each way of telling a story, and that one is not better than the other.  If the story is good, the story tells you how it needs to be told, and a reader will accept how it needs to be told.  Force it?  And it falls apart, like any art.

But it still fascinates me what writers chose to write.  There’s always a moment, either in the very beginning or at the very end where I sit there and wonder: why did they make that choice?  It’s purposeful, even if we don’t know we do it.  The key to this answer helps me be a better writer: analyzing, asking questions, and enjoying the crap out of stories.


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