When, terrified and shaking, I submitted my first book to the man who was to be my agent, Henry Morrison, his advice to me was something I remember even today. “Don’t try to write this in the first person,” he said. “It’s a technical feat that’s really too hard for a first-time novelist.”

He was right, then. And after the thousands and thousands of words I’ve written since, he still is, in a way he couldn’t have foreseen.

The use of person in fiction is a secret that must be discovered by the writer again and again. It’s an art. Writers are aware of the choices that are required from chapter to chapter…but as readers, are we?

The choice of point of view in a book or in a chapter—and the limitations that that choice imposes—is one of the most interesting parts of writing. And reading.

Think of it this way: In first person, the reader can know only what the character knows. The limitations of the character’s perceptions are the limitations of the plot.

A universal third person reveals everything that everybody knows.  A more selective use of third person falls somewhere in between. And there the choices get really interesting.

That selective third person lets us know just enough and not too much. We can choose to let our point-of-view character know some things and not others. We can use that limited knowledge to discover things that another character may not know…or hold them back to be revealed later. We can use it to build the mystery of a character or a plot arc. We can use it to raise goosebumps. And smiles.

Knowing that makes it even more interesting to read as a writer writes. What are you being shown in what the character knows? What is being hidden from you? Try looking through those eyes next time you pick up a book.  If anything might make reading even more fun than it already is, this might well be it. The art of Person.

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