By Susan Triceratops
This week an aspiring author asks:
I can’t decide whether I should use first person or third person for my new novella. I’d like to try second person but I’m told it is really difficult.
What would a triceratops use?
Great question! I’m going to have to get technical here!
Typically there are three and a half choices.
- First person – typified by the word “I”. The story is narrated directly by a character involved in the events and at the centre of the story (or part of the story).
- Second person – typified by the word “you”. The story is told as if the reader is being addressed as if they were a main character in the book.
- Third person – typified by she, he, they or other pronouns. The story is narrated as if by an observer who can knows what is happening but is not actually involved.Third person can be split into two further types:
- Limited point of view – third person is used but in a way that follows a particular character and limits what we are told by what that character knows or experiences.
- Omniscient – the story is told as if by a person who knows everything relevant that occurred.
Human writers like to use first and third-limited these days. I guess they suit mammal brains.
What would a triceratops use? Well grammatically and stylistically we like to use the FOURTH person.
The fourth person is characterised by the word “apparently” and is the perspective of somebody discussing events indirectly.
The fourth person comes in two basic forms:
- Fourth person incidental – the story is told in the form of describing indirect events and occurrences from which the main story can be inferred. The closest I’ve seen a mammal use this is Tom Stoppard’s Rozencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead – which doesn’t really capture the full triceratops literary style but gives you a sense of it.
- Fourth person retelling – the story is told as somebody re-telling a story they heard from somebody else. This is seen as a lesser, more populist style by triceratops. However, it can stack recursively to make quite complex perspectives when the fourth person is used to tell a story that was already fourth person. To translate into mammal, imagine a film of an interview of a director of a documentary about the staging of a performance of a dramatisation of a novel that was of a woman watching the film version of the play of the Frost-Nixon interviews.
The fourth person is modified by noting the perspective which is being used for the incidental account or retelling.
- Fourth by first person – “I was told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
- Fourth by second person – “You were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
- Fourth by third person – “They were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
In addition the perspective of the incidental or retold story may need to be noted. This is done by adding “via”. ““You were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.” would be classed as Fourth by second via third omniscient in a triceratopian writing class.
The most highly regarded approach in triceratops society is the fourth by fourth by third via second. It is a highly traditional perspective used in both contemporary forms and classic poetry. Original it was used to describe the incidental aftermath of what occurred in a retelling of doctor explaining what happened just before a triceratops was accidentally knocked unconscious by a drunken t-rex trying to climb a tree (a recurring theme in classical triceratops poetry).
Personally, I’d opt for Fourth (incidental) by second via third. This may sound super difficult but it is an easy introduction for a mammal to have a go at the triceratopian way of writing! Just imagine you are telling somebody what happened to them when they were watching a movie of the main story that you originally had in mind. Note a common mistake by mammals is to add in to many sundry events that aren’t in the ‘movie’. Your fourth by second protagonist should only be experiencing events and emotions that arise directly from the ‘movie’ (i.e. your third person narrative).