Third Person is Not First Person

Apparently this is actually a problem. When I was really young–we’re talking first-novel-ever young–I remember writing a chapter or two, and then deciding that I had chosen the wrong perspective. I would go through what I had written and change all the I/my/me’s to she/her’s, and probably back a couple of times. I thought that pronouns were the things that made the difference.

Guess what. I was what, nine? That is not how third person perspective works.

Third person can delve pretty deeply into a character’s thoughts, so that isn’t the difference. You don’t necessarily get to know a character “better” or share thoughts that you otherwise wouldn’t if it weren’t in first person. What you do get in first person that you shouldn’t are the kinds of things that one person says to another.

Example of first person:

As I stood in the centre of the stage, I felt sweat bead along my hairline. It wasn’t the lights. If anything, they were comforting. I won’t lie, I was melting. But the real problem was the silence. No pluralised butts in seats for me. I had only one person to impress, and he was the scariest possible person. The man who would hopefully become my boss.

Now just flit through that with a mere pronoun change. Does it work?

Real third person perspective overhaul:

Sweat beaded along her hairline. Yet it was more than physical discomfort that had her perspiring. She was accustomed to the searing theatre lights, they were practically friends. Her true enemy was the silence. Even a pitifully sized audience would have filled the large space with breathing, coughing, shifting bodies.An audience of one was truly terrifying. Especially when that one was a possible employer.

Both of these perspectives have their merits, which you can hear about ad naseum all over the internet (and in books). Some people hate first person, some think it is the best. The point I had thought we all agreed on is that they are different.

But no. I just started reading a book that… sigh. Have you ever read a prologue and then said aloud, “Wow, I really should have skipped that one.” The rest of the book would have been fine, as far as I’ve seen from the first chapter or two. It’s just that… the prologue is in first person. It’s a fat expo-dump told in abrasive first person that sounded like a high school student trying to write a letter. (it’s supposed to be an adult) But the real problem is that when I got into the first chapter, the book itself is in third person… and is written in exactly the same style as the first person prologue.

It’s going to bother me through the whole rest of the book, I swear. It doesn’t help that I don’t like this girlwoman’s voice. She sounds like the kind of stupid 90’s comic book heroine who picks fights over nothing and growls, “YOU WANNA MESS WIT ME?!” at bloody everyone.

So yeah. Third and First are different. Please don’t do what I did when I was nine. I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing.


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