Self-publishing brings many benefits, including the freedom to write your book in first person, third person, or whatever style or voice you choose. Tales abound of authors whose books have been rejected by agents or publishers for writing in the first person – and then again when they've obligingly rewritten them in the third! So if you're taking the author-publisher route, which course should you steer? Here are some pros and cons, taken from a private conversation between ALLi author members on our Facebook forum (an excellent benefit of belonging to our organisation!)
Pros of Writing in the First Person
It helps you feel your way into the narrator's persona – a kind of method acting for authors!
- To the reader, it feels more immediate and “in your face”, and less like historical reporting.
- It ‘s also the most natural, intense and personal way of writing, because that's how we all naturally are – first person thinkers. It feels a bit like writing a diary, which has always been a good exercise to get words flowing.
- Writing in the third person can feel more like hard work!
- In certain genres, it can be a positive bonus and a convention – e.g. in mysteries, the reader is right there, along with the protagonist, solving the clues, or witnessing their solution (think Holmes narrated by Watson, Poirot by Captain Hastings).
Cons of Writing in the First Person
- It restricts what you can do because all the action has to be witnessed by that first person, unless you are writing first person from a series of different characters (which can be complex and confusing).
- You need a stylised voice and character to carry it off – unless it's autobiographical, so not as simple or natural as you might think if you've never tried it before.
- There's a danger with first person that you can end up sounding like yourself, and not sufficiently distinctive as a character.
- There's also a danger that people might jump to the conclusion that what you're writing is autobiographical – fine if your narrator is all-round fabulous, less so if they're a crazed axe murderer or fraudster!
- Some readers find first-person narratives unpalatable and will get no further than the first page – not as common with third-person stories.
What to Do If You're Undecided
Try transposing the first chapter from first person into third, or vice versa, to see how different it feels – it's usually surprisingly obvious which works best.
- Look at other books in your genre to see which person they're most commonly written in, and which reads best in your opinion.
- Consider the reader (the most important person in the equation!) In some genres, readers have a strong general preference for first or third person. You don't need to do what everyone else does, but if you're going to be different, make sure it's for the right reasons, i.e. your story is the stronger for your choice.
- If you use beta readers or structural editors, ask them specifically to comment on your choice of first or third person.
Ultimately, as an indie author, the choice is yours – and the buck stops with you! Good luck and have fun with your writing, whichever voice you choose.
OVER TO YOU
Do you prefer to write in first person or third? How about your choice of reading – which do you most enjoy? Please join the conversation via the comment box!Pros and cons of #writing in the first person by @DebbieYoungBN #WW Click To Tweet