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Back in 2013, Rishona asked this writing question. It’s a good one, so I revived it for the newest group of writers that might be reading these posts.
What is the difference between first person, second person, and third person?
“Person” is how your main character tells the story. There are three “persons” in writing. First person, second person, and third person. Let’s explore each of them.
“First” person is when your main character is actually telling the story. It’s like many of the Andi’s Journal posts. Andi writes her thoughts and the happenings by using “I.” For example,
Today, Riley decided he was going to teach me how to shoot. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea.
First person stories are up close and personal. The author can really get into the character’s head, and this allowed the reader to see deep inside the character, as well. The reader can almost become the main character. First person can be fun to write but it is also difficult to do well. A first person character can talk to herself in the narrative too, without having to use italics for actual thoughts.. I originally wrote Dangerous Decision in first person, and I liked it. I wish I still had a copy of that first manuscript. It would be a fun addition to the “lost stories.” First person is very common in young adult or adult books but is not used as much for younger readers. If you like to write first person, give it a try!
No modern fiction author really uses second person. A few old-fashioned authors from the 1800s sometimes stuck it into their narratives, but it has a tendency to snatch a reader from the story. This is the “Dear Reader” approach, where the author “talks” to the reader something like this.
“Now, you would think that Andi would have learned her lesson by now. However, you will soon see that she did not.”
Second person is “you,” and you can easily see how the author could start sounding preachy and tell the reader what he/she should be learning from the story. Try to avoid second person in a fiction story. Save the “you” form to give somebody instructions on how to make bread or something. In a story, it is much better to let the reader figure things out through the action and characterizations in the story. Don’t preach to your readers!
Third person is the most common way of telling a story, All of the Circle C Adventures and Goldtown books are written in third person. So are most of the stories we read, like Little House, Anne of Green Gables, LOTR, and Narnia, to name a few. When I write, I use “Andi” and “she” instead of “I.” It looks something like this.
Today, Riley decided he was going to teach Andi how to shoot. She wasn’t sure this was a good idea.
Third person is not as personal as first person, but it is very easy to write. You can still get inside the character’s head by using italics for their thoughts, and you can narrate what the character is feeling too. Please, however, don’t “head hop.” This means switching from one character’s thoughts and feelings to another character’s in the same scene. That is a big NO-NO. For example:
Andi sighed. What a long day this is. I wonder when Cory will be able to race.
Cory saw Andi sigh. I’m sure I will be finished working soon, and then we can ride, he thought.
Do not do this! Do not hop from one character’s head to the other. The story can be told from only one person’s point of view at a time. Create a scene break or a new chapter if you feel you must switch between different characters.
Note: Books like Narnia and LOTR do switch points of view all the time. This type of storytelling is called the “omniscient” point of view. The reader can look down on the entire story at once and knows what each character is up to. Like watching a DVD. There is nothing really wrong with this point of view, but it is not as personal and not used as much in the written story.