This is a fun question, because until not so long ago, my answer would have been: you what? Point of view? Tense? Errrr… It was only when I’d finished my first novel and introduced it to the harsh and unforgiving glare of an online critique group that I discovered just how little I knew about writing. That book, I discovered, was written in third person limited, past tense. With my second book, I moved on to first person past tense, and there I stayed for several more books.
What’s the difference? With third person (’she climbed the stairs’), there’s an immediate distance between the reader and the character. The reader is on the outside, observing the character’s actions. With first person (’I climbed the stairs’), the reader is right inside the character’s head. Now, it’s perfectly possible to convey a character’s inner thoughts and feelings in a vivid and visceral way, even in third person, but I found that much easier to do in first person. I tend to write with some distance anyway, and a first person narrative enabled me to get under the skin of my character much better.
There’s also a simplicity to a first person story. It (usually) restricts the narrative to just one point of view character, so for some genres (urban fantasy, for instance, or books requiring a memoir-like approach) it works much better. It’s not so good for the sort of sprawling, multi-point-of-view tale such as epic fantasy. It can work in romance, with two alternating points of view, heroine and hero.
But then along came book 6, which called for multiple points of view, but with one which was more important than the others, the only one which would last for the whole book. I chose to make him a first person POV, to give him greater importance, while the lesser characters were all third person. That was a difficult book to write, for me, because it didn’t come naturally to me to switch from character to character in that way. But still, it worked, sort of. Or at least I thought so (my readers may disagree!).
Book 7 was a sequel to book 5, so back I went to first person, but book 8 was more problematic. My main character was male, and I always find it trickier to get under the skin of a bloke, somehow. Plus, he was a bit of an enigma, and I didn’t want to reveal too much of his inner thought processes by being in his head. Third person gives some possibilities to retain a character’s secrets, so that was where I chose to go. Book 9 has two main characters, so that will alternate third person POVs, and book 10 will be a multi-character POV, so will be all third person too.
So ultimately, it all depends on the needs of the particular story, as always, but I do have a soft spot for a first person POV.
Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.Follow PaulineMRoss