Based on this outline, I'm not sure how to to best re-tell this story. In particular, I'm not sure if I should tell the story as a first person "narrator," or in the third person? What are the advantages and differences between the two formats?

It's 1942. There's a young girl, about seventeen. Her brown curly hair bounces as she walks the long path home from school. Her bright blue eyes sparkle with life, juxtaposing the cold grey cement of the Ukraine city around her. She smiles to herself, remembering that her mother was making her favourite stew for dinner tonight. She couldn't wait!

It's still 1942. Amidst the cold grey cement lurk a group of shadows. Slinking, sleuthing shadows. They're sitting and they're waiting. Their keen eyes spot miss baby blue from a mile away. They make a few hand signals and she is swarmed. Large, rough German men have taken her away from everything she knows. She screams wishfully for her mom.

It's 1945. Her blue eyes no longer seemed as blue. Her hands were worn, and her face blistered from the hot sun. After being enslaved by the Nazi's for three years, hope was hard to hold on to.

It's still 1945. Stripes of red, white, and blue proudly march the streets of Germany. Relief has come, and the slaves gathered in anticipation. Although there were thousands of people there, baby blue's eyes shone brighter than them all.

It's 2015. Baby blue is still sparkling with life. At the ripe old age of 90, this woman has more spunk than you could shake a stick at. Looking at her, you would never know what she has been through.

It's still 2015. I get the privilege of hearing baby blue's story first hand.


2 Answers 2


More detail about why you have this dilemma would help, but I can answer this question in a general sense. I'm assuming you're writing fiction based on the historical setting of World War II Europe.

When deciding between first and third person, you need to consider the needs of your story, and decide what information needs to be conveyed to the reader; that - combined with the mood you want to create - will help you make this decision.

Point of view is the place from which a writer listens in and watches. Choosing one place or another determines what can and can't be seen, what minds can and can't be entered.

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd. Good Prose. 2013.

First-person narration - "I did this, I saw that" - has the advantage of letting the reader live in the skin of a character. The reader experiences the story intimately. The main problems with first-person viewpoints are that it makes it hard to convey any information from any other viewpoint. You have to have other characters tell the viewpoint character things. Any exposition or background information the reader needs is harder to get across, as these can seem clumsy and forced when filtered through a viewpoint character.

Third-person narration - "Baby blue did this, she saw that" - can seem detached, but is more flexible than living exclusively in one character's head. It's easier to change viewpoints and convey information outside the flow of the story. Characterization and mood can be harder to get across, depending on the situation.

There are hybrids of both approaches, however, particularly well-suited for historical fiction and memoirs: Limited third-person, for example, can be helpful in giving the writer a bit more freedom while following the thoughts and dreams of a single character. You can also use the format of another person telling the story - a translator, perhaps, or an ancestor making sense of family stories or interviews. This can be clumsy at short-story length, as it takes up more space, and can introduce shifting viewpoints, which can be confusing if not handled carefully.


I once heard from a trusted teacher that first person should only be used when either (a) the main character is someone other than the narrator or (b) the narrator has a unique voice.

An example of (a) is A Prayer for Owen Meany, where the narrator, Johnny, is telling us about Owen. For (b), see Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. ("You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.")

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