Friday, April 8, 2011

First Person Verses Third Person

I’ve just finished reading entries to an essay contest—Why I want to Fly. I’ve read each entry multiple times, but one stuck out for one reason. The author wrote her essay in third person. It’s beautifully written. But… did it work for this contest?

I just realized how powerful first person writing can be.

Below are samples from two different essays. While both are beautifully written, the first entry did not resonate with me like the others. Could this be due to the author referring to herself in third person?

The skies are blue on this crisp, autumn day. Children are laughing and skipping. The birds are chirping high up in the old oak tree. The leaves are slowly changing color, from vibrant green to rich reds, golden yellows, and dark browns. One by one they fall from their high perch and land softly on the ground, but the ground is the last place. Stephanie Marie would ever think to be on a day like today. Instead of being outside jumping in the great piles of leaves as all the other
kids her age are doing, she would rather be in a small box with 5 inoperable windows, two locked doors, no air conditioning and a wall full of gauges and levers. Most would not understand why anyone would want to do this, let alone a child, but Stephanie knows the power of this grand machine.

As comparison to one of the first person entries:

Why do I want to fly? I want to fly because it makes me light up like a beam. It gives me time to relax and appreciate life. I want to fly because like many things it is a challenge and I love to be challenged. It is hard work but at the same time fun, which cannot be said of many things. I want to fly because it is a dream that was born in me the first time I took a flight. I want to see this dream fulfilled. I want to be like a bird, twist and twirl all I want. Glide and take off, spin and roll, yaw and turn. I love the power on take off and the feeling I get each time the plane leaves the surface of the earth. I want to fly because the earth looks more beautiful and serene from above.

Personally, I feel more passion with the first person. It's immediate and personal. But I would love to hear your thoughts. How do you feel between the two?

Confused by POV? Please take the time to read Heather’s Odyssey and her Demystifying Point of View post.  Clear Here to Demystify.

Judging essay contests from around the world, from ten-year-olds to adults, some with more opportunity to education than others, has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a very long time. If you would like to read the complete essay from above, and the $100 winner, please click: Here Each Wednesday I will post another essay. They're so much fun and filled with passion. Writers in the making.

Enjoy the journey!

~ Karlene


  1. Karlene, these are both beautiful. I do think third person was an odd choice for a personal essay on why one wants to fly. But I have to say I think Stephanie Marie's lyrical descriptions are perfect for showing the stark contrast between what most children want to do, and her own passion. Part of her essay seems to me to be about that difference, or distance, between her and other children, and third person does provide distance, so in a way, she's adding 'the medium is the message' to her essay.

  2. This is a tough one! They are both beautifully written. To me third person is for telling a story though, not talking about oneself. To get on a deep personal level 1st person is the way to go. To tell a story, 3rd person is most compelling to me. It all depends on the type of story and what you want to evoke in the reader. Clear as mud?!

  3. Thank you Linda, I think it was an odd choice too. But it was beautiful, and you are right. She did add the medium to her essay. I wonder if she knew she did that? Interesting.

  4. Heather, thanks for the comment. You know, there is the answer... "It all depends on the type of story and what you want to evoke to the reader."

  5. I'm so glad that the first person POV comes over so well - it's so immediate and I love writing it because I feel I can really get under the skin of a character and become someone else.
    But I'm scared of 1st person POV - so many people don't like it (including my mother, so...'nuff said).
    Great post.