I have tried writing in first person, but it hasn't been feeling like the right perspective to use for the story. Should I try use third person or second person or is it difficult to begin from the start of writing with a different perspective? What perspective do you recommend me to use?

  • 1
    Note that "which perspective?" and "first person or third person?" are two different questions. It's very possible to have a third-person narration from the perspective of a character. Also, in addition to the person, you should decide the tense. Present first-person is quite different from past first-person.
    – Stef
    Dec 30, 2023 at 14:42
  • 1
    Of course, for us and most likely for yourself it would be helpful if you could be more specific abut that "feeling" that the perspective isn't right. Does it simply sound weird or tedious? Yes, switch to the more conventional third person. Do you like the way you can write inner monologue but need a way to relay events outside the character's experience? Maybe you can save the first person by constructing the story in a way that this is possible, or by switching to a "I found a diary" story in the story, or such. As is, the answers can (and do!) only provide broad hints. Dec 31, 2023 at 14:46

4 Answers 4


The perspective I prefer is called Third Person Limited. Abbreviate that 3PL. The narrator follows one character, can describe their thoughts and feelings and memories, but the narrator is not omniscient; they do not know what is going to happen, or what did happen.

If the narrator is in Alex's head, he sees only what Alex sees, knows only what Alex knows, remembers only what Alex remembers.

The Narrator does not know if other characters are lying, if Alex is entering a trap, or anything else that Alex would not plausibly know. No "unbeknownst to Alex ..." moments; that would betray the audience expectations.

Now in 3PL scenes, the narrator can describe what Alex sees, hears, sensations like heat and cold and humidity, and Alex's emotions, all in prose Alex would never use. Heck, Alex might not even know what some of those words mean. The narrator can be more articulate, descriptive and poetic than Alex would ever be. That's okay.

Just don't break the perspective.

That said, a similar form is called "Multiple Third Person Limited." The idea is still Third Person Limited, as above, but the character can change each chapter. In some chapters, the narrator follows Alex, in others the narrator follows Blake. But if Blake is the focus, then even if Alex is in the scene, the narrator does not know any thoughts or feelings of Alex. Only Blake.

So if in this scene, Alex lies to Blake, the narrator does not tell the audience that Alex is lying. Perhaps Alex tells Blake something we the audience knows is the truth, because we experienced that from Alex's POV. But Blake is convinced Alex is lying!

Stephen King uses Multiple 3PL in The Stand, to narrate several threads of different characters, including the main character and villain, that all come together in various conflicts as the story unfolds. Some of them might die in those in conflicts.

This can build tension; we the audience know what the villain is doing and thinking, and we know damn well the hero is thinking about it all wrong and is going to get blindsided.

In my opinion, 3PL, or Multiple 3PL, is the most flexible form to use for a story. You have all the access of first person without the limitations of a realistic first person; e.g. your narrator can be eloquent when your character is not; your narrator can describe feelings when your character, in the moment, could not do so realistically, due to extreme pain, grief, anger, or even being overcome by hilarity, or the heat of battle, or by sexual excitement.

And this is what most readers expect, due to its utility. It is familiar.

Personally, I won't read first person narratives; I just cannot stay immersed in characters saying "I jumped through the opening" when I, personally, would have never done that. Maybe that's a disability of mine, I cannot separate "I" as myself from "I" the story character.

But I can certainly believe that Alex jumped through the opening, Alex is a first order badass.

  • Since you mention that a third person character can die. That is in principle true even for single third person. By contrast, first person past tense almost always has "plot armor": Since they are telling the story, they must have survived it; there is an innate certainty that there is a (at least somewhat) good ending. (There may be a few exceptions where this certainty is (ab)used by the author, perhaps mostly in horror-ish stories: For the last few sentences, the narrator switches to present tense and describes a terrible, hopeless situation.) Dec 31, 2023 at 14:32

The standard normal default narrative perspective is third person past tense. Most books are written in third person past tense. Readers are used to it and it feels least obtrusive and most natural.

There are segments like Yound Adult where first person present tense has become more common, but outside of that I would always recommend to write in third person past tense unless there was a compelling reason to write in first person or present tense.

Don't write in second person unless you know what you do.

  • 2
    There are also "make your own adventure" type of books where writing in 2nd person is common, i.e. "if you want to explore the cave, continue reading on p. 42" Dec 30, 2023 at 14:57

Second Person POV is very difficult to use effectively for long pieces. It works well for marketing where the intent is to put the reader behind the wheel of the super duper Maserati so they want to buy it.

Third and first person are both good. One big deciding factor is does your story depend on the reader knowing about events outside the POV characters’ knowledge. If so, then first person isn’t a great fit since one of the constraints in first person POV is the narrator can only share information they know.

In third person, the narrator can share any information needed to advance the story. That information can be from the far flung past when Lemurs ruled the Earth — approximately fifteen minutes after the meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs — or can be across the globe.

There really isn’t answer to your question since it depends on your story and what you want to achieve. One method is to write the same chapter twice: once in 1st person and then in 3rd person. You can even vary the tenses: past and present. That would give you four variations on the same chapter. Then you can see which one works.

It maybe that none ae working because you’ve selected the wrong POV character.

You are also free to use multiple POV characters, with different POVs. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is reported to mix 1st and 3rd. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern mixes 2nd and 3rd. The 2nd person POV are very short scenes. I found the effect very eerie, and effective.


That's a rather broad question. First, as others have noted, there's a difference between grammatical person and point of view. "First person" is used to refer to a grammatical category of verbs and pronouns (I, me, am, etc.).

Generally, first person is used when the narrator is an in-universe character, while third person is used for narrator is not an in-universe character. However, there are various combinations possible. In From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the narrator at first appears to be an omniscient non-character, but at the end it's revealed that the narrator is an in-universe character.

Another work that plays with narrative tropes is How I Met Your Mother. Most of the series has Future Ted as a nigh-omniscient, possibly unreliable narrator, but some episodes have him relating things that he didn't witness, and he will occasionally interject with things like "He [whoever's story he's relating] swears this really happened".

So something to consider would be having your narrator be a character that exists in-universe, but isn't part of the story. Maybe they're a journalist trying to put together what happened, and sometimes their narrative is just their guess as to what happened.

Or they could be someone in the story, and they relate things they personally witnessed in the first person, but then switch to third person when discussing what they've gathered from other people as to what happened outside their presence.

  • How I met your mother is a great example; one of the cool things is that there are two narrations: there is the off-screen voice of the narrator, and there is what we see on-screen. The directors play with the ambiguity: it is never explicitly said whether what we see on-screen is what happened or what Ted says happened, and in fact it's a little bit of both;
    – Stef
    Dec 31, 2023 at 10:43
  • sometimes the narrator voice says something, and we see something slightly contradictory on-screen (for instance Ted says he was on the same wavelength as another character, but what we see is that Ted was oblivious to the other character's disagreement); sometimes the narrator says something obviously false, but what we see on-screen is consistent (for instance Ted says they were "eating sandwiches", and accordingly we see them eating sandwiches, even though they were obviously smoking weed and not eating sandwiches).
    – Stef
    Dec 31, 2023 at 10:43
  • 1
    Other examples similar to the Basil E. Frankweiler example can be found in detective fiction, notably one of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and one of Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin. Arsène Lupin stories are usually narrated by an unnamed acquaintance of Lupin who plays a very minor role, if any, in the stories; but there is one story which is narrated by Lupin himself. Lupin only reveals himself as the narrator at the end of the story, possibly surprising the reader who knew that one of the characters was secretly Lupin but couldn't figure out who. (story names removed to avoid spoilers)
    – Stef
    Dec 31, 2023 at 10:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.