The Third Person vs. First Person Point of View in Young Adult Fiction
Young adult readers often love drama. As teenagers, they enjoy books that let them get inside the heads of protagonists, experiencing the story through their emotions, observations and struggles. This makes first-person point of view a popular choice for authors of young adult fiction. Although used less frequently, third-person narration creates vivid settings that reveal details to readers that a first-person narrator might not notice. Knowing the distinctions between first-person and third-person point of view in young adult fiction can help you better understand this versatile genre and gain ideas for your own projects aimed at the young adult audience.
Defining Point of View
In young adult novels, the primary difference between first- and third-person narration is the distance between the reader and the protagonist. In first-person point of view, a character from within the plot narrates the story using the pronoun "I." The audience listens to this character directly relate the events and has uninterrupted access to her emotions and reactions. In third-person point of view, an unnamed outside narrator tells the story, using the pronouns "he" and "she," achieving greater distance from the main character and a broader focus on the plot as a whole.
First-person is the most common viewpoint used in young adult fiction because it allows for greater intimacy between the reader and the protagonist. Because the main characters of these books are generally teens, direct access to their thoughts and emotions creates a sense of authenticity for the voice. Sometimes, authors choose to structure these books as a series of letters or diary entries. One example is Susan Beth Pfeffer's "Life As We Knew It," which takes the form of the protagonist's journal entries after an asteroid hits the moon and creates havoc on earth.
According to young adult author K.L. Going, third-person is effective for writers who are "looking to create a distinct mood or tone." If the world of the story is so unusual that the protagonist would be limited in her ability to describe it, third-person point of view allows the author to transmit those details to audiences via an outside narrator. For example, the "American Girl" series requires third-person narration to accurately portray the stories' historical contexts. The "Harry Potter" books are also written in third-person, allowing audiences broader access to the details of Hogwarts' fantasy world.
Multiple Points of View
Some young adult novels use multiple narrators to combat the disadvantages of both first- and third-person points of view. Because first-person narrators limit the story to only the main character's viewpoint, some books feature other characters narrating parts of the story. Virginia Euwer Wolff uses 20 first-person voices in "Bat 6" to capture the viewpoints of two rival girls' basketball teams. Similarly, many authors have broadened third-person's characterization ability by using omniscient narrators. Ann Brashares's "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" features the viewpoints of four friends, capturing their unique world views while still using third-person.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.