How to Breathe Life into Your Characters Part V

How to Breathe Life into Your Characters


First versus Second versus Third


This is where we get into narrative mode or First, Second, or Third person.

For years I tried unsuccessfully to write in Third person. I had come to the writing table thinking it the “easiest” version to tackle. But it was like trying to shove myself through mud. It didn’t feel or sound “right” to my ear. Others remarked how stiff, unnatural it sounded to them. I came to agree. In Third, your reader experiences the story through the viewpoint of one character, your hero or heroine.

That means that anything that happens without their presence, can’t be shown or knowledge that the character retains. Thus Bob can’t know Judy just dribbled poison onto his oatmeal. He can smell an odd odor, taste an oddity, but he can’t be positive that it’s there until he’s clutching his throat, flailing in the attempts to keep himself alive, while Judy looks on with glee.

Third is the most common narrative. It can also be broken down into Third-person limited, omnipresent, and plural. Limited, of course, means one character’s(not necessarily the character with the most to lose here)viewpoint. Harry Potter begins as third-person limited. Omni means that you tell the story from more than one person’s view. Again, later on in the books, the Potter novels switch to several’s in order to get the “full picture” of the story. And finally, plural ranges with chapter-by-chapter switches from one viewpoint to the next. Sometimes these go from first person to third person.

Second Person is the “You” narrator. Honestly, I don’t “get” the plucking down of the reader in this mode. It seems off-putting to me. There are very successful authors who write in this fashion though, so that’s not to say if you prefer this, it’s wrong. It is just another version that felt wrong for me personally. And, hey, you have to go where your heart leads you. It’s the only way to go.

When my crit partners encouraged me to give first person a try, I was amazed at the comfortable fit. To me, it was like coming home. All those years I spent wrestling with third person because it was the most popular viewpoint, swept away. At last, I could express myself the way I wanted too. For those of you who don’t know so, First is the “I” pov. Recently, I’ve begun to go back through my books and re-write them in the first and it is paying off big-time, I think.

I can have fun again. I can stretch my writing muscle, I can soar above the clouds. So, if you’re struggling to fit into a narrative that just isn’t doing it for you, flirt with the others. Find the perfect fit. You might be surprised. I was.


3 thoughts on “How to Breathe Life into Your Characters Part V

  1. I felt the same way about first person. It also was what finally allowed me to connect with Voice–the closeness just made it so much easier for me to get int tune with my POV character!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse


  2. Great post Traci! I can’t write in 3rd person (LOL). I tried a couple of stories that way, but I wasn’t finding my voice. It wasn’t until I switched over to first that I actually found my writing voice! I find I connect more with characters that way. And it allows the reader to really put themselves into the story.


  3. Angela and Rebekah,
    Yes! It’s like taking the blinders off. There’s such a wealth of difference between first versus third. And as I said, second doesn’t appeal to me at all.


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