7

I know there's a lot of questions regarding this topic, but none of them delved too deep into if there's a different level intimacy between the two perspectives.

People have told me that FPP in a book is much more intimate, and therefore I have written the majority of my books in FPP, but I have recently started reading "Eragon". Now, this isn't the first time I've read a Third person perspective book, but it did refresh my look on Third person perspective.

I have come to believe that there is an equal amount of intimacy between the both perspectives. What makes FPP books so intimate is that you know what the character is thinking, but in "Eragon", you're often told what the character is thinking. Not only that, but Third person perspective allows for more information about the plot that would otherwise be hard to formulate in a FPP story.

Also, a little side, not too important question: are fantasy novels more prone to have Third person perspective, while others chose FPP?

17

Intimacy between a reader and a character is created by allowing the reader to "witness" the thoughts and emotions of a character. You can do this (or not do this) both in first person as well as in third person narrative.

For example, this first person narrative is very detached:

On my way home, I saw Karen. She ignored me, so I didn't talk to her.

This third person narrative, on the other hand, is quite intimate:

John had been thinking about what to say to Karen the whole morning. He had been quite confident he could smile and greet her, when he saw her on his way home. But now, as he approached the bus stop where she sat, he was getting more and more nervous and afraid with each step. What if she laughed at him? Shaking, John approached Karen, but she didn't look up as he passed her, and he didn't find the courage to speak to the top of her head. His fear passed the farther he got from the bus stop, but a deep sadness welled up in him, and around the corner he began to cry.

Not great writing, but you get the idea.

  • 9
    He probably should have tried talking to Karen instead of Kate. – Tom.Bowen89 Mar 16 '18 at 14:48
  • Detachment could work as well, though, if the narrator themselves is detached/matter-of-fact. Why did John not talk to Karen? Does he not like it when people ignore him, or was he simply not that interested in talking to her and thus didn't feel like striking up the conversation himself? Sometimes it can be interesting to let readers have to come up with ideas for why a character did something rather than outright telling them. – JAB Mar 16 '18 at 16:08
7

First person narratives are not inherently more intimate. You can achieve intimacy or distance in any narrative mode. But in some ways first person can actually diminish intimacy.

But first we have to ask what we mean by intimacy. It could mean any of the following:

  • Knowing more about the character, particularly the hidden details of their psyche. If this is what we mean, there are things a third person narrator can tell us about the psyche of a character that the character themselves cannot tell us, since we are not always conscious of the nature of our own psyche.

  • Feeling close to the character. First person puts us in the head of the character. But that is not how we get to know people in real life. We get to know people from the outside. All our faculties for getting to know someone, for reading them, for knowing them, are based on seeing them from the outside, and we quickly learn that the thing people say about themselves are often a mask. We trust what our eyes more than our ears when it comes to assessing personality. Third person puts us in a more natural position for getting to know someone.

  • Knowing the thoughts and feelings of the person. This might be the best argument for the intimacy of first person. But the third person narrator is at perfect liberty to describe the thought and feelings of the person. And indeed, they can better get at the ambiguity of thoughts and feelings than the character themselves can realistically express. After all, we can only report our own thoughts and feelings to the extent that we understand and can articulate them. But we often fail to understand our thoughts and feelings at the time we experience them, particularly in tense situations.

But we should note that intimacy is not always what you want in a story. In fact, stories are all about distance. They are about maintaining a comfortable distance from dangerous or upsetting events. After all, we read stories about events and adventures that we would never voluntarily be involved in ourselves. We don't watch Sons of Anarchy because we actually want to ride with a drug dealing gun smuggling motorcycle gang. Insofar as we want that experience, we want a buffered version of it, from a physically and morally safe distance.

Narrative technique is all about establishing the right distance from the subject matter, the safe distance that lets us know what we want to know without the pain that would be involved in finding out for ourselves.

And first person can be used as a technique to establish distance. By telling us the story, the involved narrator takes control over what we are allowed to see and hear and know. They decide how intimate their confession is going to be. Sometimes the technique is uses specifically to give us this sense of being pushed back from events, of being kept away from the intimate things, because that resistance to intimacy is what the author seeks to portray.

Also, the first person narrator can be an unreliable narrator, denying intimacy through lies and deception. And in some sense, all involved narrators have to be treated with a little bit of suspicion, because we never wholly trust the stories that other people tell about themselves, knowing, as we do, that we seldom tell the whole truth about ourselves.

So, first person can be used as a distancing technique, and if you want to get as intimate as possible as authentically as possible and as reliably as possible, third person is actually a better instrument for the job.

3

I can surely think of a reason why 3rd person would be more intimate: it inserts the reader into the story, at the moment it happens (even if written in the past).

For us, intuitively/naively, if we stand next to somebody (as the 3rd person), we can be put arbitrarily close to the "target" person, as close or closer as we could be to a real person in the real world. This could be used to create an awesome closeness.

In 1st person, this effect goes away. The reader is not inserted into the world, he is instead inserted into the head of the protagonist, or, depending on how you write it, as if reading an after-the-fact story told by the protagonist; I'd argue the first ("in the head") is just not related to our real-life experiences; and the second ("after-the-fact") is just that - completely separated from the actual events.

As a practical, pretty dull, example: if you want to convey how sexy the protagonist is, in 3rd person, you can go to all lengths of describing the physical appearances, the outward behaviour, the clothes as seen (or not seen...) by someone else in the room, and so on. In 1st person... not so much. Sure, your protagonist can look into the mirror and tell us how sexy they feel or appear to themselves, but it's just not the same.

2

First Person means that you are stuck with that one person and its look on the world. This can mean a lot more intimacy, especially in situations that show the emotions of this one person. But a good author is able to show these emotions in dialogue and in actions between characters and can therefore convey the same kind of feelings in Third Person.

If you are good at showing the emotions of your characters there shouldn't be a big difference between the two perspectives in regards to intimacy.

The preference for one style or the other is frequently changing and it may just be the case that you are mostly interested in stories that choose Third Person instead of First Person, which leads you to the assumption that Third Person is used more often in fantasy. In the end it's just about what the author prefers and what he wants to do with it.

Third Person allows you to show the story from multiple different angles and to explore a bit more of the world even if your characters wouldn't know it. Writing in First Person is a bit more difficult as you have to be aware of what your characters knows and thinks all the time so that you don't give away details that your characters can't know. This makes the acquisition of information a far more important point. The focus is simply different and there may be some people who find one style or the other easier. If you prefer to show the readers extra details that are related to the current dialogue, but not known by any of the characters yet you may want to go with the Third Person, if you want to stick to the point of view of your character because you can better visualize the scenery that way you may want to go with First Person. But intimacy shouldn't be the consideration. If you are worried about that aspect you should try to think more about ways to show the emotions in the style that you think is harder for this - or simply choose the one that's more natural for you.

1

First Person Can Be* Intimate

*emphasis on "can be"

When people say first-person is intimate they are probably thinking about a book like, The Catcher In the Rye (Salinger).

Reading the first couple of sentences is very instructive (and compelling):

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told you anything personal about them.

It's as if you are really sitting and listening to a teen-aged kid who is letting you inside. That's what people think of when they think of first-person.

S. E. Hinton was another great writer of first-person narratives. Check out the intro to The Outsiders.

When I stepped out into the sunlight from the darkness of the movie house I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman -- he looks tough and I don't -- but I guess my own looks aren't so bad.

Not Just Listening to Talk, But Experiencing Feelings

Again, this kind of writing is fantastic when done by great authors. And it does create a kind of intimacy with the character because you're not just listening to the character but you're sitting inside his head and knowing exactly what it feels like to be him.

Modern Problem With First-Person

The problem that has occurred with first person more recently is that amateur authors jumped on a band-wagon of the past success of these type of novels and started writing everything in first person.

First Person Can Sound Egotistical

However, first person is not a guarantee that the writing will be more intimate. Often if falls into other problems which make the character simply sound egotistical.

It can also become extremely overwhelmingly annoying as the reader is forced to listen to long monologues coming from a character who can't seem to shut up. This is the case when you have a poor writer deciding to use first person because it is easier.

Yes, sometimes first person is chosen because it is easier.

First Person May Be Easier

Here's what I mean. As humans, we all think in first person so many new authors think,

"Hey, I'll just write down what I'm thinking and I'll have a novel."

That is not an effective way to choose POV.

Third Person Can Be Intimate, Maybe More So

You could write a very intimate version of your story in third person by moving close to one character.

For example, if we re-wrote The Outsider's excerpt in third person you don't lose a whole lot and you could gain some possibly.

When Ponyboy stepped out into the sunlight from the darkness of the movie house he had only two things on his mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. He was wishing he looked like Paul Newman -- Newman is tough looking and Ponyboy has a softer chin -- but he's a good looking kid.

Couple Of Reasons For Choosing Third Person

There are other things you can tell the reader about your main character that won't sound egotistical in third person and you can tell more of the story than you can from the limited viewpoint of a first person character.

0

The standard problem with third-person perspective is when it's written from the point of view of a god-like omniscient being. Not only can this spoil the narrative and plotting, because the reader knows things which the characters do not, but it tends to disconnect the reader from the characters.

The more usual way to approach this is with third-person limited perspective. The narrative is still written in third-person, but you are only given the viewpoint and experiences of a limited number of individuals (or perhaps only one). We tend to call them "point-of-view (PoV) characters".

Most people have read the books of A Song of Fire and Ice. You'll notice that each chapter tends to be centred around a particular character. During that chapter, the thoughts of other characters are never shown, even if those other characters may later be PoV characters themselves. What emotions you see from the other characters are strictly those which the PoV character at the time can see.

There are other ways to do this, of course. The Number of the Beast (which in all other ways is a tedious exercise in right-wing stupidity) is written in first-person perspective, but each chapter changes which of the four main characters is "I". Charles Stross's Laundry Files series are mostly presented as the protagonist's work journal, so are mostly in first-person perspective, but every now and again there are third-person perspective inserts of relevant events which have been inferred or discovered subsequently but which the protagonist was not aware of at the time.

  • 1
    No, it is written from the point of view of a storyteller. It is the privilege of the storyteller to tell their story any way they like. Third person omniscient (so called) is the default narrative mode of western literature. Other narrative modes become trendy from time to time but third person omniscient is still the foundation of the art and the place where it full potentialities are available to be realized. The only thing that disconnects the reader from the characters is poor storytelling. Choosing a different narrative mode won't fix your story, but it could well break it. – user16226 Mar 16 '18 at 15:01
  • @MarkBaker Of course the storyteller can tell their story however they want - but if they fill their story with spoilers then it could well break it. If you consider it the "foundation", you might also like to consider that the majority of Romantic and Victorian literature uses the framing devices of correspondence, journals or a character telling the story to the author, and third-person narrative was notable by its near-complete absence. Even plays (from Shakespeare onwards) were full of first-person narrative from key characters, as exemplified by soliloquies and asides to the audience. – Graham Mar 16 '18 at 17:08

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