Pick Your Poison - Writing from a First or Third-Person POV

I've read a lot of different POV's on first or third-person and just like everything else, everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject (shocking as that is). Luckily, there are few options to choose, so that's my glass half full approach for the day ;)

More often than not, I have read that a murder mystery should be written from the first-person POV and that most of them are. How interesting then that a lot of the recent books I picked up and dusted off recently were written in third-person. In addition, a lot of author's change it up. Even the great Agatha Christie wrote in both the first and third, respectively.

My first suggestion is obvious and should come as no surprise, read both and then decide what works for you - what comes natural. Maybe they both do. And if so, what then? Never fear, here are some things to consider:


Just Me, Myself, and I: I walked through the door.

Five Senses: In first person, the main character uses their five senses (his eyes bored into mine, he nudged me, he howled). I just used sight, touch and hearing. This is how the character communicates what is happening. Everything is seen through the eyes of the main character.

Ability to Hold Interest: The character should be fascinating in their own way, but especially in first-person since we have one main character taking the lead through the story. The reader needs to get to know that person, what they are about, what makes them tick, tick, tick. The character MUST be able to grab hold of the reader and then keep that vested interest going throughout the story.

Mistakes to Avoid: Your main character can't see their own face when they are communicating with someone else, so for them to say something like, "I had a puzzled look on my face," or "My face was crimson red," isn't possible. Let me tell you what you CAN do, however. You absolutely can have another character describe something about the main character, and you should do this from time to time as well so the reader gets to know who they are on the outside as well as the inside. "Hey Jude, ever thought about cutting off that shaggy brown mop of yours? You look like the lead singer of Aerosmith."

Pick Up Your Reader at the Bus Stop: In first-person, the reader should always be along for the ride. What I mean by that is, if your main character finds something out, the reader gets to find out too. Fair is fair. There should be no hidden surprises. The discovery process is unfolded as the reader is reading and as it is happening to the main character. In other words, don't hide info from your reader and then spring it on them at some strange time leaving them to wonder where they were when it all went down. The last thing you want is the reader wondering if they accidentally skipped a few pages. Get it? Got it? Good!

As a side note, the only time I have ever felt completely blindsided by a book was when I read Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I would definitely classify my opinion as I read the end as a what the hell moment. If you have never read it, you should.

Third-Person: Limited or Multiple:

He/She: She walked through the door.

In third-person you will first need to decide whether you still want one character at the wheel guiding the reader through the story, or multiple characters.

Different Viewpoints: Third-person is fun because the reader gets to see the character both in and out of their head. This also expands to multiple person POV where the writer can jump around from one person to the next. In reading books like this, I find authors tend to take the leap from one to the next as one chapter ends and another begins. It seems like the less confusing way to do it and still keep the reader on board. It's also fun because you can jump around and go around the houses a bit before reeling the reader in and pulling it all together.

Develop a Pattern: One thing you want to figure out if you are going to write in third-person is what sort of pattern you want to keep. Meaning, if you have three chapters based on one characters then maybe you have three chapters based on the next so it isn't confusing (this is for multiple person POV). I would make one suggestion here and that is not to use too many viewpoints - the readers don't need too many cooks in the kitchen.

Need help deciding what is right for you, check out these links:

Third-Person Omniscient

Third-Person POV

First and Third POV

First-Person POV

First-Person POV

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