Re: Is 3rd Person POV Dead in MG Fiction?

posted 11/15/11

Dear Editor…

Many editors say they are looking for MG novels with a strong voice. So many examples they cite are in first person. Is there still room for 3rd person narration? Would you differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of both.



Dear Sondra…

The scale does tilt lower on the side of 1st person POV in MG fiction, but the 3rd person side is by no means empty. The reason for the imbalance is readers themselves: tweens tend to focus inward as they really struggle with who they are for the first time. It suits their mindset to be inside a character’s head, experiencing the story for themselves. Third person POV risks making them feel a step removed from emotions and events. A benefit of choosing 3rd person is that you get to describe things outside the character. Don’t base your POV choice on the tilt of a scale. Write one of your scenes in each POV, then ask yourself which reveals more about your protagonist’s personality. Your comfort writing the POV matters, but not as much as the character revelations.

Happy writing!
The Editor

P.S. For more on this topic, read Point of View, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
posted by: The Editor
under: Point of View, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
Comments to "Re: Is 3rd Person POV Dead in MG Fiction?" | Add a Comment
    1. Tess Hilmo wrote (on 11/15/11 at 7:55 am) :

      I remember struggling with this when I first started writing MG fiction. I wanted to write in first person, but was honestly not very good at it. I did what you suggested here and played around with different options and ended up writing (and publishing a MG novel w/ Macmillan) that is written in limited third. It is removed enough that I can give broader descriptions but still has that MC’s bend on things. For me, it was the perfect solution and I think it works.
      Interesting thoughts here today!

    2. The Editor wrote (on 11/15/11 at 2:23 pm) :

      What a great success story, Tess. Congratulations!

    3. Laura C. wrote (on 11/15/11 at 8:35 am) :

      My WIP is a YA Horror written in 3rd limited, and I’m petrified this will be a big strike against me with agents. I grew up reading 3rd (when the dinosaurs were roaming the planet and everything was in 3rd) and just cannot get used to writing in 1st. Since horror is plot and description oriented, I’m hoping it’s acceptable. I’m glad to see Tess got her novel in 3rd published. CONGRATS Tess!

    4. The Editor wrote (on 11/15/11 at 2:33 pm) :

      Your reasoning about the needs of horror stories sounds wise. Good luck!

    5. Lisa Chaikin-Johnston wrote (on 11/15/11 at 9:12 am) :

      Thanks for discussing the mindset of the MG age group in the advice given here. POV is tricky! I like the idea of trying both the 1st and 3rd POV to decide which (maybe both) suit the protagonist’s personality. A great way to find the best voice.

    6. The Editor wrote (on 11/15/11 at 2:32 pm) :

      I’m a big advocate of experimentation. Some worry that you waste time when you try things out, but I see it as a wonderful way to move out of your comfort zone. I think the time is well spent, whichever decision the experimenting leads you to.

    7. Carol Riggs wrote (on 11/15/11 at 9:56 am) :

      Interesting! I’ve read that MG (ages 9-12) is written more in a 3rd POV, and YA (ages 12-18) is written more in 1st POV. But I think the point is still that teens/kids enjoy the “I” experience, the closeness of themselves to the main character. My agent says some editors won’t even look at YA unless it’s in 1st! I wrote 15 novels in 3rd but my agented novel is working MUCH better now that I’ve switched it to 1st. Takes some getting used to. 🙂

    8. The Editor wrote (on 11/15/11 at 2:26 pm) :

      Wow, I’ve never heard an editor say that, myself. I’m glad to hear the switch is working for you.

    9. Kurt Chambers wrote (on 11/15/11 at 11:21 am) :

      I write MG fantasy in 3rd limited. I’ve never had a problem letting the reader get close to my character. I’m better at writing in third, it’s what I do best. I think that’s the key, doing what you do best. We’re all different. If everyone wrote the same, there would be no original authors voice, just industry standard copies. I find third more natural, but I’m old like Laura 😀 Well, nearly lol

    10. The Editor wrote (on 11/15/11 at 2:28 pm) :

      So you walked with dinosaurs, too, Kurt? Tricky to get writing done with those fellas stomping around outside.

    11. Kurt Chambers wrote (on 11/15/11 at 3:34 pm) :

      haha!! Yeah, me and Laura can share stories that the kids are reading about in schools these days LOL Ain’t that right, Laura? 🙂 Only from different parts of the world.

    12. Adele Richards wrote (on 11/15/11 at 11:43 am) :

      Oooh this is a good one! Thanks for tackling this. I’m still at the plotting/planning stage for my MG WIP but am planning to write in 3rd person limited. Reading first person drives me bonkers in general. Although one of my fave ever books (for adults) is written in First (Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Peter Hoeg).

      I will take your advice and try a chapter in First and in Third and see which reveals more about the protagonist. Great advice! Thank you!

    13. The Editor wrote (on 11/15/11 at 2:29 pm) :

      Good luck, Adele.

    14. Kate Lacy wrote (on 11/19/11 at 3:51 am) :

      Seems to me that I see (8th and 9th) students reading both — but the more comic the plot, the more likely it’s 1st and that’s often the way kids see life — as if everything is happening TO them and they’re never in charge. The more dramatic the plot, the more likely it’s 3rd for most of the popular books I’m seeing at the moment. Exception lately: Character stories seem to be 1st; plot and intrigue stories seem to be 3rd. Suggestion for 1st” FLIP by Martyn Bedford. Not funny, but his life is hopelessly out of control.

    15. The Editor wrote (on 11/19/11 at 4:23 pm) :

      Thanks for the recommendation, Kate.