First or third person, which is better?

I have been writing fiction for four years and I have seen this argument, first vs. third person, on every writer’s board I have belonged to. So I decided today that I would tell what I know and think about this subject. If you are a brand new creative writer I think what I have to say may help you decide which viewpoint is best for the story you are telling.

Let me first explain to the best of my ability the difference in first and third person point of view in writing. Most of you probably already know this but I need to introduce this article with the proper information before I proceed, so bear with me. First person is when you use “I,” you are telling the story from the perspective of the self, “I” did this and “I” did that, or “we” were there. This point of view limits you, when writing, to only what the main character can see, think or feel. They are not privy to the thoughts, feelings or observations of anyone but themselves.

Third person, on the other hand, allows the writer to tell the story from the perspective of more than just one character. There are two main types of third person point of view that the writer has at his/her disposal.
  • Omniscient - The writer has license to tell the story from everyone’s viewpoint. They are all powerful, able to tell what each characters is thinking, seeing and feeling.
  • Third Person Limited–This is where the writer tells the story from one character’s point of view but instead of first person, using “I” the story is told as an observer, as in “She” or “He” though you are actually in the character’s shoes, you are a step removed.
So, which point of view to use and why the big debate about it? Well, many writers believe, and they swear that publishers and agents agree with them, (which I think is really just subjective. If you are a good writer you can tell a story well from any viewpoint.) With first person there is a much stronger intimacy between the reader and the main character. You know everything they are thinking, seeing and feeling. But of course you can not know what the other characters think, see or feel, although in first person you can speculate. Still, first person is, in my opinion, harder to pull off. You take the chance of sounding monotonous, for one thing.

Personally I prefer third person limited and I will tell you why. It is a matter of mechanics and knowing that I am getting it right, that I won’t be able to jump out of point of view if I can only know what my main character is up to, but as opposed to first person I get the opportunity to tell the story from a distance that allows me some power over her/his thoughts and feelings, because I am telling it from MY perspective as I perceive it.