I am working on a scene (one of many) and I am having trouble with voice (in all of them). I find first person handy in some situations and third in others. Below are two excerpts from the same scene the first is in first person, the second is in third person.

What I really want to know is which better brings the character and story to life.

I do have much longer extracts if that will help, I didn't want to overkill it to start with though.

First Person

The boredom is by far the worst part of the job. For example right now, right at this moment I am laying on my back in the dirt, my face is four inches from the floor of the porch above me and every time someone walks overhead dust drifts into my face. At this moment I want nothing more than to be able to scratch my nose. I really thought that being a guild thief would be more…glamorous. But here I am my first day as a professional “wealth re-distributor” lying in the dirt, sweating and clenching my whole face in an effort not to sneeze. I used to wander the market liberating poorly secured coin purses day-dreaming about what real thieving would be like. I always imagined dressing all in black, scaling walls with ropes and sneaking through sleeping houses to help myself to giant gems and sparkling life-size golden statues. But no, I am dirty and smelly and waiting for a fat old man to leave his office so that I can take…are you ready for this? Some paper, well, ok a specific piece of paper.

Third person:

Running can be fun, and they say it's good for you, but as Nirin tore through the streets and alleyways of Akrovasi dodging walkers, carts of goods and vendors hawking their wares, it occurred to her that 'they' probably didn't include being chased by armed guards in their evaluation of the activity's health benefits. The wide stone streets of the merchant quarter that zigzagged away from the central market were crowded with shoppers and the litters of rich ladies riding on the shoulders of servants. The stone roads had been smoothed over the countless years of pedestrian (and sometimes thief) feet. Despite the fear that drove her forward she never felt more alive than she did at times like this. Her body knew just what to do. She sprinted toward one of the more flamboyant palanquins, a gilded seat draped in bright blue silks. Nirin had just enough time to notice the rider, a giant woman with at least three chins. She ducked between the two large tattooed men on the front of the poles and slid beneath the raised seat and popping back to her feet on the far side as she sprinted on. She looked over her shoulder just in time to see the guards and servants getting tangled and the woman, her chair and chins toppling to the ground.

  • I thought the third person one was more entertaining, for what it's worth. I like both, though. This would be an easier call if the scene was the same, just written from two different POVs.
    – Patches
    May 18, 2014 at 1:53
  • I will try and rewrite both sections from the alternate points of view and repost them.
    – James
    May 19, 2014 at 15:45

1 Answer 1


I much preferred reading the first-person excerpt, but that doesn't mean much when taken out of context like this. There's no simple answer here. First person has certain advantages, third person has other ones. Which you use depends on the story. Can you tell us more about the larger work? Is it a personal story, or is it a grand, uber-epic tale? Are there other characters you're following?

Without a doubt, the text in first person gives us a much better idea of the character. It gives us an intimate moment, lets us get a sense of the character's inner thoughts.

However, the story is better moved forward by the third person paragraph. It moves the story forward and there's more action. This may be because the two paragraphs really aren't the same action.

What you need to do is look at your story as a whole, and decide if you need to give us a better sense of story or character. In which aspect is your tale lacking? That should give you your answer.

  • Well I plan it to be an epic. Multiple stories intertwined, a new universe in my head (hence the interest in the world building proposal) in the end multiple books. I have back stories written and basically a timeline from the beginning of creation. I think for the first book it will follow two, maybe three main characters. There is plenty of story available probably more than I need, and I do probably need to focus more on making the characters feel real. Is there a way to mix voices effectively? Could you do entire chapters in one or the other? I've always considered that bad...
    – James
    May 2, 2014 at 14:23
  • I guess I want to make the characters the story driver, but I don't want the world to get lost in that narrowed focus/perspective. They seem at odds currently...
    – James
    May 2, 2014 at 14:24
  • 1
    Mixing voices is hard to do well. I would recommend a third person view for anything epic. Think Harry Turtledove. May 2, 2014 at 21:01
  • 1
    Are there any authors who effectively use both voices?
    – James
    May 5, 2014 at 20:49
  • You may find this helpful: Narrative mode: Alternating person view May 6, 2014 at 17:12

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