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First and Third Person Viewpoint Problems

first-person-point-of-viewSometimes writers  can’t decide from which viewpoint to tell their story. Here’s why your agent or editor rejected your work when, assuming everything else rocked the Casbah, the problem was that the narrative‘s viewpoint failed to engage them.

1. They wished you had gone with the viewpoint you didn’t choose. (They didn’t tell you because that’s not their job unless they’re already working with you.)

2. Your viewpoint choice works, but it’s simply not their cup of pee. It’s subjective. It’s not to their taste. You can’t blame someone for not liking something viscerally (any more than you would blame someone for preferring vanilla to chocolate (even though that choice is inexplicably insane.)

3. Third person is limited omniscience. (No, no one does pure third person omniscient anymore.) First person viewpoint is much more limited in scope. In third person, the author may slide into keeping the reader in the dark. The reader may resent you for it if the execution is flawed.

4. Your first person reads like third person. In other words, third person lends itself to a more dispassionate telling of events. First person viewpoints are parades for character. If the character doesn’t have much character (i.e. unique voice, perspective, expression and sounds like all the other characters) the road to publication ends in a dead-end ditch. If I’m going to be seeing through this person’s eyes for several hundred pages, I want to enjoy the company.

5. The first person’s point of view can be unreliable (not necessarily a con, often a pro) but your protagonist is a static wimp. This is similar to #4, except here I’m talking about action. In first person, it’s easy to fall into the mistake of making your hero (or anti-hero) watch the action. I once critiqued a script that had a lot of action, but the protagonist wasn’t doing any of it. He was always around the action, following it instead of initiating. That won’t fly in the long run. 


Do what works for you. Tell the story your way and, keeping these points in mind, you’ll figure out how to proceed. (If you can’t…) An author critiquing at a writers conference once dismissed a manuscript out of hand. His reason? It was written in first person and he didn’t think there was enough of a market for that. There was a guy who had a very limited first person point of view.

Filed under: manuscript evaluation, writing tips, , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. […] Quick links to the most searched for and useful posts and sites on Chazz Writes: All That Chazz     How Editing Works (Plus Editing Symbols)     Five Editing Tricks & Tips      6 Effective Ways to Promote Your Book     First & Third-Person Viewpoint Problems […]

  2. PHS says:

    Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:
    These are helpful insights on POV issues – re-blogging on Archer’s Aim.

  3. Thanks for the informative post, I struggle with viewpoints, so this is of great interest to me.
    A quick beginners question, if I may.
    Do you find shifting viewpoints troublesome if done in an acceptable way?
    What I mean is, in a scene where a couple are discussing an issue that has arisen, is it acceptable to change viewpoint at some arbitrary point in the conversation as you wish to accentuate the feelings of the other character in the second part?
    In an action sequence, where party A is tracking down party B, using viewpoints from both parties as the hunt progresses can build the anticipation of the final encounter, I find.
    Am I in dangerous waters with this mechanic?
    Once again, thanks for the tips.

    • Chazz says:

      The danger is some readers may complain about head hopping and possible confusion. I separate character’s viewpoints with section breaks so the flow is clear. The option is to show by action instead of POV or go omniscient.

      Thanks for reading, sir!

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