What are the advantages of writing in third person rather than in first person?

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Answered by: Aimee, An Expert in the Write Short Stories Category
In real life, an event can be experienced by one person, or many people. A novel or short story can show one perspective, or multiple perspectives at various points in the narrative. According to David Lodge, the author of "The Art of Fiction," entirely objective narration is of great benefit when used for journalism or historiography, but in fiction, a story will not likely captivate the reader’s attention unless we know whose story it is.

Lodge states that the most important decision an author has to make is whose point of view (P.O.V.) the story will be told in. This decision will have a huge effect on how the reader perceives and experiences the story. The P.O.V. determines the tone, diction, and vocabulary that are available for the author to write about.

There are various types of point of view to be used in writing short stories, but the most prominent are first and third person. Third person is more advantageous because third person point of view (P.O.V.) characters can be described from outside of themselves. The reader can see what they’re doing and what they look like. This cannot be done in first person because in first person, the story is being told from inside the person's head, and the person wouldn’t think of themselves that way. In third person, the narrator can say, “He was a short man, with slick, black hair, and a stubby nose.” That same description can’t be used in first person. Most people don’t say to others, “Hi, I am a short man, with slick, black hair….”

First person P.O.V. only should be used when the character has an interesting voice. . If a writer feels that she could imagine sitting around, listening to her characters talk for three hours about what they did last summer, and not feel tremendously bored, than the tale could be told in first person. But if the character tells an ordinary or tiresome story, no matter how nice he may be, it is better to stick to third person than to bore your readers to sleep.

In Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill uses the third person point of view for the majority of her stories, except for one. “Secretary” is told in first person, from the point of view of a young woman named Debby who finds a job as a secretary at a lawyer’s office. Debby has an interesting voice. She has a knack for description. “The teacher was an old lady with hair that floated in vague clouds around her temples and kleenex stuck up the sleeve of her dress for some future, probably nasal purpose.” (132)

And she has a unique point of view. “He took my hand with an indifferent aggressive snatch. It felt like he could have put his hand through my rib cage, grabbed my heart, squeezed it a little to see how it felt, then let go.” (134) Debby’s first person narration is appealing enough to hold the attention of the readers until the very end of the novel.

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