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1st or 3rd person

Hello everyone,

I'm new to Jericho and have learnt a lot just from reading your posts. I'm now keen to seek your views on the following.

I recently finished writing a historical crime novel set in 1920. I've written it in 3rd party restricted; everything is from my protagonist Iris's point of view. However, I'm now wondering if 1st person might have been a better idea. There are pros and cons to both.

Below I've pasted the same short segment from a chapter - one version written in 1st and the other in 3rd. I'd appreciate any comments on which you think is more engaging.

I'm grateful for any feedback you can offer.

Thanks

Michelle

1st person version:

I stared up at the window of the room where my mother died. I didn’t know who lived in the house now.

I’d arranged for my bag to be taken to my grandmother’s, so I could walk from Hither Green Station to the house on Hither Green Lane where I’d once lived with my parents. On the way, I passed Glenview Road. In October 1917, three houses on the road had been destroyed in a Zeppelin raid. Fifteen people, ten of them children, had died. Now, three years later, there was still a gaping hole in the landscape, a daily reminder to residents of the horror of that night.

Standing outside my old home, I felt nothing. I’d been happy here once. But that was a lifetime ago – that innocent time before my mother’s death and war.

I crossed the road and walked alongside the high wall that surrounded the Park Fever Hospital. When I reached the metal gate, I peered through to the hospital campus. In 1917, as soon as I’d turned 18, I’d insisted on joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment. My first assignment had been at the hospital. The time I’d spent there had taught me how to bury my grief and concentrate on others. Then, when I was transferred to Lewisham Military Hospital the following year, I still managed to ignore the ache of loss I carried with me. You had to remain detached to deal with the endless stream of casualties that filled the wards day after day.

But now I was worried. Had I buried too much? My memories of my mother were beginning to fade. That scared me. I never wanted to forget her large brown eyes, that loving smile, and those gentle, slender hands.

I took one last look at the hospital and carried on walking along Hither Green Lane. The houses all appeared grimy and the road unkept. It was the same as I turned into Brightside Road. I opened the door of my mother’s childhood home and forgot the shabby post-war streets as a familiar warmth enveloped me. 

“Iris, darling.” My grandmother pulled me into her arms. As soon as she let go, my Aunt Maud took her place.

 “You look better than you did at Christmas.” My grandmother stood back to examine me. “But you still need fattening up a little.”

“Mother. It’s the fashion for girls to look waif-like nowadays,” Aunt Maud laughed.

My grandmother, Josephine Armitage, was a tall, thin woman with grey hair pinned up in a bun. Aunt Maud was shorter and plumper with a round, smiling face and soft brown hair. She had the same brown eyes as my mother. This relieved me.

We made our way into the parlour with its familiar smell of freshly baked scones mingling with the scent of my grandmother’s lavender cologne.

“Is Mrs Siddons coming here?” Grandmother asked, lowering herself slowly into her armchair. Aunt Maud put a cushion behind her arthritic back.

 “No, I’m meeting her at Westminster,” I said. 

“Just as well,” said replied, though I knew she was disappointed. “There have been rumours about her and Lloyd George, you know.”

I exchanged an amused glance with my Aunt. It was the thought of my grandmother making this type of comment that had made me arrange to meet Mrs Siddons at the House of Commons. I didn’t want to risk an embarrassing scene. Though I had to admit, the prospect of watching Grandmother and Mrs Siddons exchange waspish remarks held a certain appeal.

“Is your father happy about this?” demanded Grandmother.

“No. But he understands why I want to go.” My father hadn’t been happy about me revisiting the scene of Mother’s fatal accident. But he knew how much it meant to me to support Mrs Siddons. I was desperate for Mrs Siddons to win the Aldershot by-election and become the third woman to take her seat in the House of Commons. 

“I think you’re right to accept her invitation,” Aunt Maud said. “We must all move on.”

My grandmother had no intention of moving on. I knew the old lady felt the loss of her daughter just as keenly now as she had six years ago.  

“How’s the election going? Do you think Mrs Siddons will win?” asked Aunt Maud.

“I’m not sure. She’s popular in Walden but not so much in Aldershot. Lady Timpson’s been making generous donations to army charities recently. The military holds the most sway in that area.”

“Buying votes,” snorted Aunt Maud. “What about Labour?”

“Donald Anstey’s the Labour candidate. I don’t know much about him. I’m going to interview each of them with Elijah.”

“How is the old rogue?” Grandmother asked. “Still drinking like the devil and smoking too much?”

“Same as ever,” I smiled.

“Is he prepared to support Mrs Siddons?” my Aunt asked.

“He’s not committing himself yet. We’re to give each candidate an equal platform, to begin with. Then he’ll decide if we champion one candidate or remain neutral. Of course, Mr Laffaye will have a say.”


After tea, I went up to my mother’s childhood bedroom. It was comforting to be back here, but I felt oddly displaced. I wasn’t sure where I belonged anymore or where I wanted to be. I liked the peace and tranquillity of Hampshire, but part of me missed my old life in London.


3rd person (restricted):

Iris stared up at the window of the room where her mother died. She didn’t know who lived in the house now.

She’d arranged for her bag to be taken to her grandmother’s, so she could walk from Hither Green Station to where she’d once lived on Hither Green Lane. On the way, she passed Glenview Road where three houses had been destroyed in a Zeppelin raid in October 1917. Fifteen people, ten of them children, had died. Three years on and there was still a gaping hole in the landscape, a daily reminder to residents of the horror of that night.

Now, standing outside her old home, she felt nothing. She’d been happy here once. But that was a lifetime ago – that innocent time before her mother’s death and war.

She crossed the road and walked alongside the high wall that surrounded the Park Fever Hospital. When she reached the metal gate, she peered through to the hospital campus. In 1917, as soon as she’d turned 18, she’d joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Her first assignment had been to work in the hospital. The time she’d spent there had taught her how to bury her grief and concentrate on others. When she was transferred to Lewisham Military Hospital the following year, she still managed to ignore the ache of loss she carried with her. You had to remain detached to deal with the endless stream of casualties that had filled the wards day after day.

But now she worried she might have buried too much. Her memories of her mother were beginning to fade. And that scared her. She never wanted to forget her mother’s large brown eyes, her loving smile, and her gentle, slender hands.

She took one last look at the hospital and carried on walking along Hither Green Lane. The houses all appeared grimy and the roads unkept. It was the same as she turned into Brightside Road. She opened the door of her mother’s childhood home and forgot the shabby post-war streets as she was enveloped in a familiar warmth. 

“Iris, darling.” Her grandmother pulled her into an embrace. As soon as she let go, her daughter Maud took her place.

 “You look better than you did at Christmas.” Her grandmother stood back to examine her. “But you still need fattening up a little.”

“Mother. It’s the fashion for girls to look waif-like nowadays,” laughed Aunt Maud. 

Her grandmother, Josephine Armitage, was a tall, thin woman with grey hair pinned up in a bun. Aunt Maud was shorter and plumper with a round, smiling face and soft brown hair. She had the same brown eyes as Iris’s mother. This relieved her.

They made their way into the parlour. The smell of freshly baked scones mingled with the scent of her grandmother’s lavender cologne.

“Is Mrs Siddons coming here?” asked her grandmother, lowering herself slowly into her armchair. Aunt Maud put a cushion behind her mother’s arthritic back.

 “No, I’m meeting her at Westminster,” Iris replied. 

“Just as well,” said her grandmother, though she looked disappointed. “There have been rumours about her and Lloyd George, you know.”

Iris exchanged an amused glance with her Aunt. It was the thought of her grandmother making this type of comment that had made her arrange to meet Mrs Siddons at the House of Commons. She didn’t want to risk an embarrassing scene, though she had to admit, the prospect of watching her grandmother and Mrs Siddons exchange waspish remarks held a certain appeal.

“Is your father happy about this?” demanded her grandmother.

“No. But he understands why I want to go.” Her father hadn’t been happy about her revisiting the scene of her mother’s fatal accident. But he knew how much it meant to her to support Mrs Siddons. If her friend won the Aldershot by-election she would be the third woman to take her seat in the House of Commons. 

“I think you’re right to accept her invitation,” said Aunt Maud. “We must all move on.”

Iris knew her grandmother had no intention of moving on. The old lady felt the loss of Violet just as keenly now as she had six years ago.  

“How’s the election going? Do you think Mrs Siddons will win her seat?” asked Maud.

“I’m not sure. She’s popular in Walden but not so much in Aldershot. Lady Timpson’s been making generous donations to army charities recently. The military holds the most sway in that area.”

“Buying votes,” snorted Maud. “What about Labour?”

“Donald Anstey’s the Labour candidate. I don’t know much about him. I’m going to interview each of them with Elijah.”

“How is the old rogue?” asked her grandmother. “Still drinking like the devil and smoking too much?”

“Same as ever,” she replied, smiling.

“Is he prepared to support Mrs Siddons?” asked her Aunt.

“He’s not committing himself yet. We’re to give each candidate an equal platform, to begin with. Then he’ll decide if we champion one candidate or remain neutral. Of course, Mr Laffaye will have a say.”


After tea, Iris went up to her mother’s childhood bedroom. It was comforting to be back here, but she felt oddly displaced. She wasn’t sure where she belonged anymore or where she wanted to be. She liked the peace and tranquillity of Hampshire, but part of her missed her old life in London.


Replies (22)
  • Hi David,

    Yes, there are a lot of 1st person novels around at the moment!

    Thanks for taking the time to read both versions and comment. It's great to hear why you prefer 3rd; I hadn't thought of it in that way before.

    Thanks again,

    Michelle

    • Another vote for 3rd Person.  

      1st first person makes it hard to demonstrate or reveal anything about the protagonist (assuming the narrator IS the protagonist), the reader ends up being TOLD everything, and then having to decide whether the narrator is being honest or not.  One can be impartial with a 3rd person perspective in a way that is simply impossible in 1st person.

      That being said, 1st person is GREAT for writing funny stories. Because jokes require perspective, are enhanced by the lack of objectivity, or even the dishonesty of the narrator.  

        

      • Sorry, but I instantly got more involved with the 1st person version rather than the 3rd.  I am just not intamullectual enough to understand why. (Not even sure I could spell 'ominscient').
        I have only ever written two books, one in 1st and one in 3rd. Didn't even think about it, just did it because it felt right.
        So ask yourself which one feels right to you? That's all that matters.


        • Thanks for taking the time to read these passages and comment. Good point about funny stories. I'm experimenting with both 3rd and 1st, and the humour is stronger in 1st. However, it's a crime novel, so there's not much of it!

          Thanks again,

          Michelle

          • Hi Iain

            Thanks for reading and giving feedback. The reason for this experiment was I recently read a couple of books that were easy to get into, and I sailed through them. It was only afterwards when I picked them up again to analyse what made them so accessible I realised both had been written in 1st. 

            Initially, I thought writing in 1st would be too limiting, but I'm finding it fun!

            Thanks

            Michelle

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