Sunday, October 21, 2018

What's Your Favorite - First, Second, or Third Person?

Minerva Spencer's kitchen in Taos - isn't it gorgeous? I'm up here visiting for the weekend and she wants me to tell you it's normally much tidier than this but we've been having an eating, drinking, talking writer's bacchanalia. 

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven, to continue the contentious cycle of last week's one vs. two spaces throw-down, is: First Person POV vs. Third – or Second – Which Do You Like to Read?

I've blogged about this topic a fair amount and discussed it on my podcast. And I've been asked there to explain the difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, so I think I'll kick this topic off in part by defining some terms.

POV = Point of View

Point of view, commonly referred to as POV (Pee-Oh-Vee), is how the story is told, from what perspective. You can think of it like a camera recording the scene - it can be close up on faces or panning over the landscape. We refer to close up as "deep POV" and the most distant focus as omniscient, where the story is told by someone who knows everything that's happening and that everyone is thinking. Who is telling the story gives you the POV.

One way to look at the type of POV is like you may have learned in grammar or if you learned a foreign language. You learn to conjugate verbs according to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, singular and plural. For example:

I am
We are
You are
You are
He/She* is
They are
*"They" is also appropriate for a gender-neutral 3rd person singular, though the verb conjugates as the plural.

Most writing is going to have instances of both singular and plural POVs, but whether the author chooses 1st, 2nd or 3rd person to tell the story - or a combination of those - affects a great deal about it.

First Person

First person POV, the "I" perspective has the camera very close, essentially inside the character's head, viewing the world through their eyes, knowing only what that person knows. It's the deepest POV.

Example: I was at the store the other day and saw the strangest thing.

Second Person

Second person POV is kind of funky but also hip, especially in more literary efforts. It speaks to "you," drawing into into the story as the character and telling you how you're behaving and feeling. This is also a deep POV, though I find it also has a distancing quality, like a game or a dream. It's almost always done in present tense (that I've seen). 

Example: You're at the store and you see the strangest thing.

Third Person

Third person is the most traditional storytelling style. It can range from deep - though never quite as deep as first person - to omniscient. This is telling a story that happens to someone else. 

Example: She went to the store last week and saw the strangest thing. 

With all that established, what do I prefer, as a reader? I actually don't really care what POV a story is written in. I read for character and story and don't pay much attention to POV. That said, I don't love second person and it often reads as pretentious to me. And it's a flag that the story is meant to be more literary and I rarely enjoy something deliberately designed to feel erudite. Just me. 


  1. It's as if you asked me what my opinion on this is, and wrote a coherent story of what I babbled. 😜

  2. I haven't read too many books in the 2nd POV, so I can't say I have an opinion on it either way. I will say most 1st POV drive me insane! Being inside characters' heads usually makes them sound whinny to me. This isn't always the case, but it happens more often IMO than with 3rd person narratives which I LOVE!

    1. It's true that being inside a character's head gives more of a window into the fears and insecurities they hide from other people. I love that aspect, because I find human beings so interesting, and I read for character, but if you read more for plot, then yeah - I can see how it would detract from the fun :-)