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Choosing the Right Person

 

No, this is not an article about finding your soulmate; it is about choosing the appropriate narrator when writing. There is a common misconception that the first-person narrator should be avoided; this is not really the case. In reality, the choice of narrator depends on the structure and on the focus of your narrative.

In fact, the first-person narrator has some advantages on the third: to start with, it creates an immediate connection between the reader and the narrator. This can be very useful if, for example, you want your readers to have ‘direct access’ to your character’s feelings, thoughts and soul.

On the other hand, if your narrative needs to have a wide perspective on the lives of many characters, the first-person narrator may not offer you the means to bring different points of view into your writing as easily as the third person narrator.

A Bildungsroman or a memoir in the third person can hardly work, as you want your readers to be fully immersed in the world of your narrator. On the other hand, if you are writing a novel following French naturalism or Italian verismo, where the focus is on the collective, and the narrative has to be impartial, the third person is more suitable.

Do remember that you can always bring your readers into your characters’ minds even when using the third person, through free indirect speech and thought; yet, you can only use free indirect speech and thought for limited sections, thus the immersion in the character’s soul can never be as thorough as when you are using the first person.

Also remember that even a third-person narrator has a personality; from obtrusive and cantankerous to unobtrusive and ephemeral, your narrator’s voice will be the filter through which your readers will be hearing all the (other) characters’ voices.

Of course, you are not bound to use either the first or the third, nor to use one individual narrator in your stories, novels or poems, multiple narrators and even second person narrators can be used, but it may be a bit tricky at first to get the transitions right.

So, every time you need to choose a narrator, ask yourself what you want him or her (or it, why not?) to do, why you need a narrator at all, what you want your readers to see and whom you want them to identify with.

Written by Adriano Bulla

 


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