Posted by: stephbowe | January 30, 2010

Perspective in YA

A lot of YA novels are written from a first person perspective. I tend to write in first person myself, because I prefer reading books in first person – I feel closer to the central character than I do when I’m reading a book in third-person, which is somehow more removed. Probably because we’re looking down at it all from above, rather than being in one character’s head.

But there are a lot of books where third person perspective works. A lot of fantasy and sci-fi is written like that. Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have worked half as well if we’d only been able to know and see the things that Frodo sees. In first person, the reader can only find out something once the character knows it. In third person, the reader can know more than the character. So we can know when a character is walking right into a trap…

Much less commonly used, and more likely to be used in small parts of a novel or a short story, rather than an entire novel, is second person. The reader is the character – ‘You walked to the fridge and drank milk from the carton’. I’ve read it used very effectively in Nick Earls’ After January and Meg Rosoff’s Just In Case – but only in a couple of chapters. I have a bit of affinity with second person myself.

So, which perspective do you most often find yourself writing in? First, second, third? And which do you prefer to read? Are the benefits or disadvantages I haven’t mentioned here?



  1. My novel that I am writing at the moment is half first person, half second person. Waiting to hear what the editor thinks of the second person experiment.

    I like third person, but I think first person is often the right choice for YA. Little Bird started out third and I rewrote it in first. The Undine books were third, which I enjoyed writing. First person is a difficult discipline – it’s hard to keep your characters on topic, and they so often start wallowing.

  2. I like to read books from first person perspective, and for me, its easier to read and write in first person.
    When I write I can feel things that only can be expressed by the first person perspective because of the emotion…

    I haven’t read a book from the second person perspective… I imagine its really real…

  3. I write in first person, mostly. I have one manuscript in 3rd person. Most of what I read is first person. I’m drawn to the intimacy of the narrator.

    I think you can accomplish a certain level of intimacy that approaches first person with a 3rd person close in, over-the-shoulder, POV.

  4. Justine Larbalestier uses second person very effectively in Liar. As Micah tells us her ‘truths’, as readers we are drawn gradually into her web. It is relatively easy (I would think) to write second person as a letter, but Liar provides a whole new exemplary use of the voice. Generally first person is more engaging for YA readers as third person puts an emotional distance betwen the reader and the characters. Liar is challenging but well worth making an effort. It seems to polarise readers – you either get it or you don’t.

  5. Another notable use of second person is “Bright Lights Big City” by Jay McInerney.

  6. Totally amazing, though not YA, is Kalinda Ashton’s ‘The Danger Game’ — she uses first, second and third person. three POVs!! It’s not that hard to read either, and it must have been a brain-squeezing thing to write. They’re all really effective for conveying the different characters they’re supposed to convey. First person is most direct, second is unstable, third is ‘factual’, ‘impassive’.

  7. Hey, Steph. I’ve written my last four books in first-person–three of them in present tense. I find it’s much easier to connect with my lead character in first person. I experience the story solely through her eyes, and that’s how it is in real life. That said, some stories demand third-person POV. It just depends on the book.

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