For writers: which voice to use

Filed under: For Writers,The Technical Stuff,Writing |

The choice of first, second or third person is key when framing a new project. How do you decide? Here are my thoughts.

All my written novels, including my published one, are in first person present. (We’ll cover tense in another piece). It’s a common way to go, particularly in YA. First person – told from the point of view of “I” – is an intimate technique that helps you delve deep into what your character is thinking and feeling. It gives the narrator a lot of moral authority to speak his mind and makes him a particularly delicious unreliable narrator (if you go that route).

I also like second person writing: you. It’s harder to pull off an entire novel in the “you” voice (Faulkner does it intermittently, for example), but “you” writing has other uses. I use it a lot here on the blog, for example, when recounting incidents in which another person was involved. I also like writing second person essays to my characters as I develop them to help me understand them as fully fledged humans.

Third person, which is probably the most common technique (although I think there’s a move to the first person in modern times), offers you some advantages. Because you’re using he/she/they, the narration can cover a lot more ground. You’re not limited to the events that just one character sees. The challenge with it is that since a narrator can see external actions, but not internal feelings, you may have to work harder to show emotion.

So, which do you prefer? First or third? Or are you a brave and experimental second?

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