A Third-Person Writer in a First-Person Story

I will be the first to admit, without hesitation, that I have a natural inclination and preference towards writing in the third-person, past tense. It might be because the vast majority of books I read growing up were in this style and thus I am more familiar with it, or might be because I think it makes certain things, like setting descriptions, more fluid and natural. Whatever the reason, I have almost always written from that point of view.

If you go and read the first two sneak peek chapters of Archangel, you will see exactly what I am talking about. I love writing from this perspective because it doesn’t limit whose mind you can dive into, what you can describe, or much beyond what I want it to limit. But at the same time, it has its own innate limitations, primarily a dissociation from any one particular character, a distance that can never be as personal as a first-person narration.

So, when I started to write the Nightshade stories, I decided to challenge myself. I didn’t want to write just another story that had someone killing monsters, I already have that going on in Archangel. What I wanted is a series where the main character, Claire, is the star. And for that, I opted to tell the story from her point of view.

eye point of view.jpg

And that is the real benefit of writing (and reading) from a first-person perspective. Even just three stories in, I can already tell a whole lot more about Claire, aka Nightshade, than a handful of other characters that exist in Archangel and other works in the Shadow’s Advent series that I am writing. With this point of view, you don’t just see things from the protagonist’s perspective, but you gain access to their thoughts, something that would otherwise be clunky in the third-person. Let me explain.

In Archangel, a person might be described objectively, listing off their features with maybe a few nuances. In Nightshade, every description is slightly skewed, given to us through the crass filter that is our antihero. It is riddled with sarcasm, expletives, snide comments, and everything else that makes Claire, Claire. She describes one person as a cowboy Brad Pitt, something that I could never get away with in Archangel.

But at the same time, the perspective puts limits on what we can know. Claire doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head, so we can’t know what is going on behind her unless she turns around. We can’t see what is going on in the minds of the villains, nor can we gain insight into any mysteries until Claire herself discovers it.

But even that serves to highlight the character more, to make the story more intimate. We are bound to this one character, we become one with them, and we become so much more invested in the story because of it.

"Consider the difference between the first- and third-person... It's like the difference between looking at the person and looking through their eyes" - Diana Abu-Jaber

Like I said, I love writing in third-person. It allows a story to be truly epic, to let me create massive worlds, multiple character arcs, and fights on incredible scales. But writing from the perspective of an individual character gives me access to a whole new toolbox, an entirely different kind of story, if done correctly. It isn’t easy, especially when my style seems to favour third-person, but it is well worth the effort it takes.

Leave a comment below to let me know which perspective you like to write or read from, and why. As soon as this blog goes live, all three Nightshade stories that are posted will have been revisited and revised, so please take some time to enjoy my urban fantasy, anti-heroine Nightshade.


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