I recently submitted a story to Delilah Devlin’s tentatively titled “Rogue Hearts: Erotic Romance for Women” anthology call, which I discovered via Erotic Readers & Writers Association. Overall, I’m quite happy with the story. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual protagonist-geared erotica towards a more couple-oriented romance, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing and editing it. In fact, a lot of my back-pocket ideas are leaning further in the direction of erotic romance rather than straightforward, sexual-awakening-focused erotica—not that the lines don’t blur from time to time.
While crafting this particular story, I found myself struggling with perspective. Specifically, whether to write it in first person or third person limited.
Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
First person allows the reader to experience the story through the protagonist’s senses. It can provide an immediate sense of immersion, which is especially nice for sex scenes, while fostering an aura of mystery because you’re only witnessing the story from one character’s point-of-view.
You can’t truly know the other characters’ motives until they’re playing out on the page.
At the same time, first person can be limiting. What if the story would benefit from another character’s sensory experience? What if you want to hide some of your main character’s intentions? That was my main concern for the Rogue Hearts submission: I wanted my main character to do something unexpected, something the reader wouldn’t see coming.
Third person limited is similar to first person, but with a bit of distance. It’s still focusing on the protagonist’s sensory experience, but you’re not as concerned with, “Can the character actually see/hear/smell/taste/etc. this.” A really common mistake that can be made with first person is describing events that the character can’t possibly be privy to. Such as, someone smiling or rolling their eyes while the protagonist isn’t looking. With third person and, especially, third person omniscient, you’re narrating the story from an outsider’s point-of-view, and that narrator can be as oblivious or knowledgeable as you need them to be.
I asked a friend who reads a lot of romance novels how she felt about first vs. third person and she said that she preferred third because it allowed for a comfortable distance between herself and the protagonist. If the protagonist made a decision that she found displeasing, it would be easier for her to accept that as part of the character’s unique story arc rather than becoming distracted by their (in her opinion) flawed reasoning.
Personally, I can enjoy a story from any point-of-view, as long as it’s well written. Even the enigmatic second person, though I have yet to try it, myself. With digital (and some print) “interactive fiction” publishers like SilkWords popping up across the web, I’m tempted to give it a try, though I’m fully aware that it’s the type of thing that takes a lot of time and effort to master.
So, elusive reader, do you prefer your erotica and/or romance in first or third person? Limited or omniscient? If you’re an author, what’s your preferred point-of-view to write in? Does it vary depending on the story you’re trying to tell? I want to know!
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3 thoughts on “Erotica & Romance: First vs. Third Person Perspective”
Your friend is quite right, it is easier to distance yourself from a character making decisions you don’t agree with if that character is written in the third person. But that distance comes at the price of reduced intimacy. A truly skilled writer would use a first-person perspective to get inside the reader’s head and make them see that in the given situation the action is perfect.
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I tend to prefer perspectives where we get into a character’s head, however it’s written. The character’s perspective is usually much more interesting than an omniscient narrator, especially if different characters have different perspectives.
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I agree, the deeper we can get into the character’s perspective, the more tangible the experience is going to be for the reader. I don’t think it’s impossible for an omniscient narrator to capture that sense of intimacy but I think it can be difficult to accomplish.
Thank you for commenting!