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so basically, i am writing a story where there are two main characters. every chapter, the perspective swaps between the two main characters. the thing is, i'm writing the story in third person past tense. i usually write in this style. but, i feel like third person writing doesn't convey the emotions, actions, and feelings of the characters very well. I've been considering rewriting the story to be in first person (still past tense). this wouldn't be too difficult, as i only have a few chapters written. but, i worry that if i rewrite the story in first person, it wont be as descriptive as i would like. descriptive writing is very important to me, as it helps establish the feel of the entire story, which is dark, dirty, and overall grimy. i worry that by writing the story in first person, it will be much less descriptive. let me give you an example of what i mean.

third person:

Mandy stepped into the room. the floor was yellowed, and he could see dirt encrusted between the kitchen tiles. "Tom?" His voice echoed eerily. "Are you in here?"

first person:

I stepped into the room, eyeing the grimy floor. I should clean that later. Focusing on the task at hand, i glanced around the dim kitchen. "Tom?" my voice echoed eerily. "Are you in here?"

another one:

third person:

the forest felt so horribly familiar, and Tom felt a sense of guilt at what had happened here five years ago. He trod though the leaves alone, flinching at every crunch and snap of twigs. the trees weren't thick, but there was clearly no moon.

first person:

I walked briskly through the leaves, feeling all manner of emotions claw at my heartstrings. guilt, fear, emptiness. i knew this whole situation sounded like something out of a bad move, but that didn't make me feel any better. i grimaced, noticing the lack of moon in the sky.

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then again, i could just go back and add in more descriptions of the character's thoughts and feelings. please go easy, i'm an amateur writer.

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    If you like thrillers, I recommend you read the following two books and contrast them: "Plum Island" by Nelson Demille, 1st person, and "Pronto" by Elmore Leonard, 3rd person with heavy use of free indirect speech. In my opinion, they're both effective at conveying the emotions, feelings and actions of the characters; but the Nelson Deville novel is restricted to the viewpoint of one character, and feels like this character is writing his memoirs years after the fact; whereas the Elmore Leonard novel feels like the action is happening right now and we get every character's viewpoint.
    – Stef
    Sep 20, 2023 at 9:06
  • Why not keep the same examples, but make sure the only differences are their tenses? As it is, you're asking us to compare very different texts, which just happen to use different tenses. Sep 21, 2023 at 21:00

4 Answers 4

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Great question! I believe that the person you write in does not limit stylistic choices. You can still have descriptive passages in first person.

Just to illustrate this, I modified your first person paragraph.

#1 I stepped into the room, eyeing the floor. Yellowed kitchen tiles sheltered veins of encrusted dirt. Focusing on the task at hand, I glanced around the dim kitchen. "Tom?" my voice echoed eerily. "Are you in here?" Pervasive silence is my reply.

#2 Engulfed by the labyrinth that was the forest, I walked briskly. The sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs broke the cold silence. As I walked, all manner of emotions clawed at my heartstrings. Guilt, fear, emptiness. It was like something out of a bad movie: surreal, haunting. The thought made me feel worse. I grimaced, noticing the lack of moon in the weather-torn sky.

Both these and your original third person paragraphs are descriptive. I was aiming more for atmosphere in these so I removed some of the protagonist's thoughts. A balance between what a character thinks and perceives is difficult to achieve, but from seeing both your 3rd and 1st person passages, you're doing well with both!

I'd recommend that instead of rewriting your entire story, first experiment with a blend between your character's thoughts and observations. You can do this in whichever person you want, because ultimately I've read some books in 3rd person with great emotional content and some books in 1st person with great descriptive content--and vice versa.

In summary, both tenses can be great conduits for both descriptive and emotional writing. Experiment with differing styles and persons before

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I hate writing in first person, it feels very limited to me.

Even in your examples, the thoughts seem strained and scattered in first person. Contrived, to describe the scene.

But in 3rd, the narrator disappears, and the images of the place are built. The narrator does not feel like a person telling us this stuff.

For me,

I stepped into the room, eyeing the grimy floor. I should clean that later. Focusing on the task at hand, I glanced around the dim kitchen. "Tom?" My voice echoed eerily. "Are you in here?"

Sounds too flowery for a realistic person to be saying. Or noticing, the grimy floor. And you lost the details the narrator could include seamlessly.

That's the beauty of a narrator, you can include all the detail you like, and nobody notices. Whereas, if a write an action scene it becomes strained and unrealistic for a person with adrenaline and fear or anger pumping to actually notice details and describe them.

Personally I just don't like the style, it feels awkward to me. I'd go with the 3rd person omnniscient limited, alternating the characters. It is much more freeing, I think.

And just try to do a better job of describing the emotions and feelings; the narrator knows everything about that one character, for that chapter. There is nothing you can do in 1st person that you cannot do in 3rdp omni limited.

But plenty you can do in 3rdp omni limited that feels awkward in 1st person.

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As you can see from the responses, it is a balance between style and the best perspective to tell your story. I prefer third person limited, as I find perspective, perception, and person comes through:

Mandy stepped into the dirty and empty kitchen, watching his footing on faded yellow tiles. "Tom? Are you in here?" Only his eerie echo replied.

So many ways to write the same situation! That's the beauty of finding your voice and style. So, should you re-write? That is a very personal choice. Maybe take one scene or a chapter that has a lot of action or emotion and write it from different perspectives to see which one achieves what you're looking for.

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I'll offer different advice: don't decide now.

Try continuing where you currently are in 1st person and see how it works. Nobody writes perfectly the first time and you can't edit a blank page, getting stuck editing this early in a project can be dangerous to finishing the first draft.

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