Fiction writing: first or third person?


When it comes to writing fiction, I’ve discovered that my weak point is point of view. Every novel-length project I’ve attempted (and one that I’ve completed) has at some point been rewritten to change the viewpoint from third person to first (or back the other way).

Much of the contemporary crime fiction I admire (by authors such as Michael Connelly, Reginald Hill, and Ian Rankin) is written in third person. Hill uses an omniscient narrator to shift back and forth between multiple characters — very tricky to pull off without leaving the reader feeling cheated. The best known of the female private eye stories (written by Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich), use traditional private-eye first person. It’s colorful, immediate, and credible but runs the risk, particularly in Grafton’s alphabet series (B is for Burglar, etc.), of sounding whiney.

It was a relief to read this post from mystery writer April Henry in which she describes making the switch — one way for one of her books, and the other way for another. Both times she changed the point of view at the request of her editor, and both time she was glad she did.

If you’re writing fiction, and have ever been tripped up by point of view, April has some spot-on observations about the advantages of each.

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