Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme, hosted on its own blog. This week’s question is:
Do you have a preference between “person” in the books you read? Do you prefer third-person to first-person? Or don’t you care? And… why?
I absolutely prefer third-person. Not that first-person is an automatic deal-breaker, it’s just much more likely to get in the way of my enjoying the book. If a book is written in first, there had better be a good reason for it, and it had better be done well.
If a book is written in first-person, it becomes that much more important that I connect with the main character. I’m seeing the world through her eyes, but I’m also essentially living in her head. If she has an obnoxious personality, it’s more grating than it would be if I were simply reading about her in third-person. At the same time, it’s important to let some of the personality shine through; otherwise I’ll spend the whole book wondering why we’re in first-person at all.
If a book is in first-person but jumps around to different points of view, it’s likely to get on my nerves. If they’re all first-person, as long as it’s absolutely clear who’s telling the story, I’m more likely to accept it. But if the main character is in first but all other points of view are in third, then it makes me think the author just isn’t willing to work within the limitations of one choice or another.
If, on the other hand, such a technique is going to work, then the voice of the first-person narrator needs to be distinct from the rest of the book. If the third-person narrator — supposedly an unobtrusive voice — is using the same tone and style as the first-person narrator, then I get really confused. I once read a book where I was sure the main character must be hiding nearby, describing a scene, because the narration sounded exactly like the character I’d gotten to know for several chapters in first-person. I can’t remember how long it took me to realize that wasn’t the case. (Similarly, if there are several first-person narrators and they all sound the same, that’s going to distract me as well.)
There’s more to first-person than just switching pronouns around, and at least in my reading experience, it’s a lot harder to do it well. If it is done well — and not only done well, but like I said, if I connect with the narrator… equally important and entirely out of the author’s hands — then it can definitely enhance a story to experience everything through the character. But there are so many variables. There are plenty of books that I would have liked better if not for the first-person narration. I don’t think I’ve ever come away from a third-person book and thought, if only it was written in first…
What’s your preference? Or do you have one?