To Be Personal, or Not to Be Personal

Recently, my professor told us that generally writers write things from which they are more detached in first person and things to which they are more attached in third person. To this I responded with a, “Hmmm. Interesting.” This of course may not be true of all writers, but it is generally the rule of thumb, and I have found that I fit this generalization.

This is not to say that everything written in the first person is not close to the author. On the contrary, it means that the writer is trying to treat the story with more intimacy. I’ll give an example from my own writing. Wounded Soldier is told from Candace’s first person perspective. I don’t usually write in the first person, but this one just seemed to fit. None of her experiences had happened to me (aside from the fact that I sent her to my current college and I guess now technically the cheating but at the time I wrote it, it wasn’t true). This did make the writing a tad more challenging because, it’s not the kind of book for which much research can be done. It’s set in modern times and focuses on a love story between a girl and (surprise, surprise) a soldier. The best I could do was Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul. Other than that, and a few military sites and books for technical terms and such, it’s basically all up to me and my own brain. But what do I do to give it a personal touch and make it sound more intimate and authentic, even though I do not have experience of the specific incidents? Well, if I tell it from a first person POV, then I draw myself and my reader more deeply into Candace and her thoughts.

Ta- dah!

Third person, on the other hand is my usual writing venue of choice. The overarching reason for this is it comes easier to me because I generally like being an omniscient author. I have too much going on, and need the different characters in different places revealing different things. An extremely challenging task to accomplish with first person. And I always thought that was the only reason.


I didn’t realize this until I began my most recent short story (yes, a short story!!) “The First Time.” Don’t get your hopes up, I don’t think I’ll be putting this one online or showing it to anyone unless it gets published because it’s overwhelmingly personal. I actually think I’m going to submit it under a pseudonym when it is ready for publication. But, it did help me understand what my professor was saying. Everything in it happened to me. Legit, every single detail. Did I write it in first person? Did I say, “I did this, this and this, thought like this, and saw that?”


I am writing this story in third person. It’s that close to me, but it never even occurred to me to write it in first person. It was almost like I wanted to detach myself. I couldn’t let the story go untold, but I didn’t want to bear my soul that much. With third person, it’s not really me. It’s someone else who’s a lot like me, but not quite. She’s someone I can empathize with, but I don’t really have to deal with her baggage.

As the Brits would say, brilliant!

What’s your experience or preference? Are you first person or third person? Is it more personal in one or the other?


About Miss Rosemary

is a recent college graduate from NY hoping to complete her novel of ten years. Stop by her blog, Miss Rosemary's Novel Ideas at or contact her at with comments, questions and suggestions. She'd love to hear from you! View all posts by Miss Rosemary

8 responses to “To Be Personal, or Not to Be Personal

  • krisceratops

    I’ve never heard that before, but it totally makes sense. Particularly writing in 3rd person for distance–I think it’s a writerly knee-jerk reaction to make it seem more interesting by pretending it’s fictional. If that makes any sense?

  • Agatha82

    Maybe because I’m dyslexic and backwards in everything I do BUT I am gobsmacked by this because to me, it is the other way around! I have found 3rd person detached and hard to get into, whilst 1st person is REALLY personal to me. Wow, amazing that for most, is the other way around. I’m shocked really.

  • Rowenna

    Interesting! The one short story class I took in college was more topical/analytical, but we had to write a personal story in first person. And it was crazy-hard–I would much rather have distanced myself!

    For my own writing though…I think I mostly pick the POV to suit the story. I haven’t yet started a story that could have been any POV but the one I wrote it in…just wouldn’t have worked.

  • Hema P.

    Interesting observations, Rosemary! I never looked at POVs from this perspective in the books I’ve read so far; guess I will from now on, thanks to you!

    For some reason, I prefer first person narrative when writing — it just comes more naturally to me. But sometime soon, I plan to try a third person POV.

  • Sharmon Gazaway

    Wow. This is interesting. I rethought my projects and yes, it does seem to work that way for me. Enlightening. Now I’ll be more aware when I choose first or third. I lean toward first heavily, but the book I most want to get back to and write is in third, maybe because it is my heart story (also because multiple POV’s are necessary to make it as rich as I want).
    Thanks for sharing.

  • jannatwrites

    I’ve done exactly what you described – really personal topics have been 3rd person so far, but I’ve written other stories in 1st person. When it’s a personal/painful topic or event, I don’t want to relive it in first person, so I’ve gone for an objective third person POV and made it someone else’s story. I don’t think this was ever intentional; it just happened. Weird.

  • Cities of the Mind

    That’s interesting, I never really considered it. I have a horrible habit of starting out in the third person on a rough draft, and getting sucked into the first person as I get really involved with whatever scene I’m writing.

  • Jillian

    That’s pretty interesting. I’m definitely more comfortable in third person…

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