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Third person: don't be scared

I think it’s safe to say that first person is pretty dominant in YA. Which is fine—first person is great. But I’ve heard people say some things about third person that scare me. Misguided things. So this post is going to be all about why you should love third person. Because you should. It’s awesome.

You have options with third person. You can write in third person omniscient, where you are, well, all-knowing. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is an example of this. With omniscient, you have the benefit of not having to stay within one character’s head at a time. But you lose the intimacy. This seems to be what first comes to people’s minds when you mention third person, and one of the main reasons I’ve heard for not liking third is that you’re “not inside the character’s head as much”. But you can’t forget about third person limited! Recent examples would be books like Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, or The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. You don’t know things the characters don’t know. You know how they feel. You are inside their heads.

It’s also much easier to have more than one POV character in third than in first person. If you don’t do it right, multiple POVs in first person can be really horrifying. Especially if you go beyond two, because it just gets to be so many I’s to keep track of. You really, truly can still have that intimacy in third person, minus the confusion. If you’re going to write multiple POVs in first person, I would want to know why it was necessary to do so, why it couldn’t be in third. If you don’t have a good reason, you probably shouldn’t do it. It’s the biggest strength of third.
There also seems to be this perception where you can’t get romance across in third. Where on earth did this come from? Has no one read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy? One of the best romances of all time, in my opinion, and written in third (and kind of in third omniscient, even).

I think maybe there’s just this irrational fear of writing in third (“but I’m better at first!”) but there’s no need to be afraid. How will you ever know you aren’t good at writing in third if you don’t give it a try? How will you know you don’t like reading it if you’ve only read two books written in third? Branch out, give it a chance. You’re missing out on some really amazing stuff if you won’t leave your first person safety zone.

Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. My first book was in first, my second in third, and the series I'm currently working on is first. But it's first person, present tense, which is something I've never done before. I'm addicted to adult romance books (Harlequin Blaze in particular) and ALL those books are written in third person. In reading those, I actually prefer third person, because you can get into the head of the male character as well.

    Personally, I like writing in both first and third. When I read your post about all the misguided things being said about that POV, I was like, "For reals? What's the deal?"

  2. Granted my current WIP is in first person (it's just how the character came to me)... I love writing in third person! I almost prefer it - I think it's easier to stick with the character's personality in 3rd... I sometimes have trouble differentiating between my current MC's thoughts and my own while writing 1st person POV, ha.

  3. I agree, Kaitlin - write what you feel comfortable with, but don't knock on the other options! I've always written in 3rd, but as far as reading I have no preference.

    I kid you not...nearly a year ago I stumbled across a literary agent's website where he highlighted his "do not dos" for queries. And he specifically said: "No novels in first person." His reason? It was amateur. And yes, I'm positive he said "novels" and not "query."

    He went on to say why he thought novels in first person were a sign of amateurism, and how experienced writers only write in 3rd. I couldn't believe it – and although my book was in 3rd, I didn't query him. I just don't understand that way of thinking at all...first, second, third, present, past...somewhere, someone has mastered every possible combination.

  4. I like third person. Third person is perfectly acceptable.

    That's all I have to say. Lol.

  5. I completely agree with this post. I personally love 3rd person POV; it was my first, actually. Currently, the novel series I'm writing is 1st, but I've plans for two stand-alone novels that will be in third because I love it and it is awesome and because there is a lot of potential for tongue-in-cheek humor.

    I don't see why people have such an aversion to third POV, omniscient or limited--Harry Potter, anyone?--or different tenses for that matter. I like writing in them all. Although I've yet to try second. But that's an orange of another color.

  6. I forgot about Wicked Lovely being in third, but you're spot on with your thoughts. As with anything in writing, if done properly it will work great. Nice post, Kaitlin!

  7. I can't believe people think about third person like that. I love reading from that perspective, and writing from it even more so! (Unlike a lot of writers I've met, third person is my default, although I've grown to like writing in first person lately...)

  8. When I first started writing, I used to always use first person. Now I'm completely obsessed with third person limited--I've even started delving into third person omniscient. I find it difficult now to write in first person--it sounds too contrived now. My only problem when writing third person is that I tend to become an overly involved narrator; that is, the "narrator' speaks as if she is the actual character. This is an annoying habit that was pointed out to me by one of my MFA professors.

    I just wanted to add that I just entered this foray into YA lit (it was suggested that I change my current WIP into a YA novel), so I'm completely "green" on the topic. I would love some suggestions on edgy, YA novels for research. Please check me out at Thanks! :)

  9. Fantastic post, K. I like writing in all POVs, so I don't tend to root for any one POV. Like you said, third has its special qualities, as does first, second, etc.

  10. This is a great post. I've been struggling with POV issues lately. I will reference this blog in a post I will do on my own as well.

  11. Sarah Rees Brennan and Cassandra Clare (both third person POV) had an advantage most new writers don't have: platform and an established fan following. I prefer third person. It just steepens the odds against you of getting published in YA.


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Item Reviewed: Third person: don't be scared Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kaitlin Ward