When I first started to write, I naturally gravitated to telling the story in third person. I doubt I even thought about writing in first person point of view (POV). But for my second book, first person felt right. I continued in first person for the next few books in that same series, then switched back to third for the Leine Basso series.
At the time I didn’t consciously make the decision to use different POVs for the different series, but looking back on it now, it makes sense.
For the Kate Jones books, I wanted the reader immediately immersed in Kate’s life—all the danger and fear and heart-pounding events—so I used first person. Using this POV can get tricky, as you can only write what one character experiences, so are limited in what you’re able to tell the reader. Many writers see this as a constraint, but I viewed it as an interesting way to challenge myself. First person allows for more immediate intimacy and it suited the character and the story.
Writing from third person allows more freedom to tell the story because you can use other character’s POVs, but you have to work harder to enlist the reader’s sympathies. The Leine Basso books were doubly difficult because not only did I write it in third person, but the character is an ex-assassin, not someone for which readers would necessarily feel empathy. I mean, would you feel sympathy for someone who used to kill people for a living? According to readers, what I ended up doing worked, thankfully. 🙂
Many times, if I’m struggling with a story, it’s because I’m writing it from a less-effective point of view. Take the following passage:
Third Person: Her eyes flew open. At first she didn’t remember where she was. Sam’s deep, even breathing told her he was asleep next to her on the bed in his room. She rolled onto her side to watch him.
He was even sexier asleep. He laid on his back, one hand across his stomach, the other tucked under his head. The smooth skin of his face and lips begged for her touch. At least, that was her story. She trailed her finger along his jaw, tracing a delicate line under his ear.
His hand shot up and captured hers in an iron grip. At the same time he spun her onto her back and straddled her hips, pinning her arms over her head. He paused for a moment, his eyes burning through hers, searching. Then he lowered himself until his lips barely brushed against hers.
The above scene works fine—the reader gets the idea—but they aren’t immersed in Kate’s viewpoint, so there’s distance between the reader and the character/unfolding story. Now for first person:
The same passage—First Person: My eyes flew open. At first I didn’t remember where I was. Sam’s deep, even breathing told me he was asleep next to me on the bed in his room. I rolled onto my side to watch him.
He was even sexier asleep. He laid on his back, one hand across his stomach, the other tucked under his head. The smooth skin of his face and lips begged for my touch. At least, that was my story. I trailed my finger along his jaw, tracing a delicate line under his ear.
His hand shot up and captured mine in an iron grip. At the same time he spun me onto my back and straddled my hips, pinning my arms over my head. He paused for a moment, his eyes burning through me, searching. Then he lowered himself until his lips barely brushed mine.*
(*Dead of Winter, a Kate Jones Thriller)
Personally, I think the scene feels more intimate when it’s in first person. The passage written in third person still works fine, but didn’t convey exactly what I wanted it to. It’s also a matter of personal taste.
If you’re not sure you’re writing from the most effective POV, try changing a scene from first to third, or vice-versa. If you do, I guarantee it’ll be easy to figure out which one to use.