Nov 17 2008
We’ve already discussed why beginning writers tend to struggle with first-person narration, but third-person narration has its own share of problems.
1. A third-person narration that tries to immerse readers in the perspectives of too many characters will probably feel flitty. As a rule, a third-person scene shouldn’t give us internal thoughts from more than one character. Even switching between two characters’ minds tends to disorient readers.
2. A third-person narrator can’t get us as close to the perspective of an abnormal or misled character. For example, if the main character has false memories or amnesia, a first-person narration will probably help us stay on his page. Similarly, if the story has a lot of misinformation, such as false memories or amnesia or deception, then first-person narration will probably help us keep track of what the narrator knows/thinks.
3. Third-person stories usually do a better job explaining what characters do and say. For example, a third-person narrator can add context clues like “he lied” that typically aren’t available to a first-person narrator. However, third-person stories are usually more limited when it comes to showing us what the characters are thinking. If you’d like to write a story where the main character’s thought processes are critical (like Flowers for Algernon), I’d recommend avoiding third-person.
4. Many third-person narrators get lost in the perspectives of characters that are not very interesting. See Harry Turtledove.
5. Third-person narration typically marks off character thoughts by italicizing them. That means that long passages from the character’s mind will probably look unpleasant. In contrast, a first-person narrator is freer to discuss his thoughts at length.