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Mar 30, 2014

FINDING YOUR VOICE: Writing in the Third Person (or First) by @MarySmithWriter: #GUESTPOST

Posted by Unknown  |  at  2:42 AM

Thank you so much every for participating in the March Book frenzy. You guys made it a phenomenal success. And to help us close this off with great aplomb is Mary Smith. We greatly loved her peice on 

What You've GoT To Know About Having A Writing Mentor and I believe the same of this one. 

NOTE! Mary's book, NO MORE MULBERIES will be priced at a very low 99cents during the 4 day HOP, so please prepare to download. HOP BOOK CATALOGUE.

FINDING YOUR VOICE: Writing in the Third Person (or First)

Image of Mary SmithOr – who is telling this story?

What I am writing about in this blog post will not be new to other authors, who will all have asked themselves the same question many times, possibly even several times in the course of writing one novel.  Readers, though, may not be aware of the importance of the question, or of how a writer decides whether to write the novel in first person (I) or third (he, she). It is a question which needs to be answered before the author even starts tapping out Chapter One on the keyboard.

What difference does it make? A good story is a good story no matter whose voice is telling it – right? Well, yes, that is true, of course, but the writer’s choice of voice will completely alter the novel. It will be the same story, same plot, and same characters but, you the reader will be taken on a different journey depending on the author’s choice of voice.

Using the first person voice – the ‘I’ voice – allows the writer to tell the story from the point of view of a character – most often, the main character. This allows the reader to get very close to the character, to become emotionally involved in everything the character does feels and thinks.
The disadvantage of using the first person voice is that it limits the reader to the perspective of that character.  Readers only know what the character knows – so the writer can’t tell the reader what is going on in some’s else’s head or show what the other characters are doing when ‘off the page’. One other point about the first person voice is that the reader is aware (even if only subconsciously) that the author is perhaps not telling the whole truth or omitting character flaws. A first person narrator is always unreliable.

The third person voice can either be omniscient or limited. If the author chooses to use the omniscient third person the reader can follow all the characters and sub-plots even when the characters don’t know what is going on. It is much less emotionally engaging than the first person voice or third person limited.

Third person limited is the most popular, especially in novels which are linear and don’t have too many sub-plots. The writer can show the reader the character’s thoughts and everything she sees and does. It is as if the reader is witnessing events through the character’s eyes. The beauty of third person limited is that it is possible to give the reader other character’s points of view – providing the switch is made cleanly and doesn’t cause confusion.

When I started writing my novel No More Mulberries I knew I wanted to tell Miriam’s story. Miriam is a Scottish midwife married to Iqbal, an Afghan doctor and the couple live and work in a remote, rural area of Afghanistan. Their marriage is clearly in trouble and Miriam can’t pinpoint what is going wrong or why Iqbal has changed from the man she married.  I worked in similar remote areas of Afghanistan for several years and can draw on lots of personal experiences to provide an authentic portrayal of daily life there. I wanted readers to feel close to Miriam, to be on her side all the way, so decided on the first person voice and started writing.

However, part way in, I was having problems. The story was beginning to seem too one-sided. Yes, I wanted readers to empathise with Miriam and her struggles to deal with cross cultural issues, family concerns and a seemingly uncaring husband but not to the point readers would start to wonder why she didn’t pack her bags and leave. That unreliable narrator I mentioned was at work, and I began to feel Iqbal’s side of the story was not being fully explored.

Iqbal is a more complex character than Miriam was suggesting and I wanted the reader to know that. He bears metaphorical and physical scars from his childhood; he is battling against his own narrow, cultural upbringing and his difficulty in communicating emotions. And so, I began again, this time in the third person. This time I could let Iqbal’s back story be told so readers could a better understand why he is the way he is. And Miriam has to accept there are other sides to the story of a relationship!
Think about some of your favourite novels and consider how different they would be if written in a different voice from the one the author chose.

If you read No More Mulberries when you reach chapter four – have a think about how it could have been written if I was still determined to write the novel in the first person. It would be a different story and, I believe, not nearly as layered and complex as it is.

No More Mulberries is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.

British-born Miriam’s marriage to her Afghan doctor husband is heading towards crisis. Despite his opposition, she goes to work as a translator at a medical teaching camp in a remote area of rural Afghanistan hoping time apart will help are see where their problems lie. She comes to realise how unresolved issues from when her first husband was killed by a mujahideen group are damaging her relationship with her husband and her son – but is it already too late to save her marriage? 

“Written with empathy and humour, No More Mulberries provides a fascinating insight into life in rural Afghanistan.” 

“This book might be about Miriam, but it's Afghanistan which will grab you and hold you.”

Mary SmithMary Smith was born on the island of Islay, Scotland and grew up in Dumfries & Galloway in south west Scotland. She worked for Oxfam in Lancashire for ten years. She later spent ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan, firstly for the Pakistan Leprosy Control Programme based in Karachi followed by establishing a mother and child health care project in the Hazara Jat region of Afghanistan and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
After returning to Scotland she worked as a freelance journalist while writing her first book, Before The Taliban: Living with War, Hoping for Peace. This narrative non-fiction account of her time in Afghnaistan lets the reader meet some of the ordinary Afghan women and their families with whom Mary worked.
Her second book, No More Mulberries, also set in Afghanistan is her first novel.
Mary's years in Afghanistan - often working in remote rural areas - allows her to bring a high degree of authenticity to her work.
Mary Smith is now a freelance journalist while working on her second novel and first poetry collection.
For more information on Mary's journalism, poetry and other projects visit her website

Thank you so much for visiting 
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About the Author

Most know me as the author to Fabulosity Reads and in actual fact, that is the previous name of this blog. I have since then moved my books to a Wordpress self-hosted blog so that I can have a place to show a different side of me which I am equally passionate about and that is marketing and personal development. I hope you will love being here, watching me grow as I share and learn. My highest hope is that we will grown and learn together in all disciplines affecting our lives. I'd LUUURRRVE to hear from you, so don't be shy...


  1. Thanks for hosting this, Wendy. The book frenzy has been great!

  2. Interesting post on POV and your reasons to not do first person with this story. No More Mulberries is on the TBR list - it will be fascinating to read it, knowing that you write from personal experience - I'm in awe of that as some of us live such sheltered lives...!
    I read The Kite Runner years ago and was fascinated by Afghanistan - I had no idea how "Western" the country once was.

  3. Thanks, Joanne. I hope you enjoy No More Mulberries. Let me know what you think when you've read it.
    I feel really privileged to have spent so much time in Afghanistan.It is a fascinating country and anyone who has ever spent time there can never forget it - it gets under the skin somehow.

  4. Great post! I love hearing other authors' ideas on why they decide to write a story in a specific style.

    As you said, there's no wrong way, and to me, that's what makes reading different stories by different authors enjoyable.


  5. Thanks for dropping by, Carmen and taking the time to leave a comment. I think I chose the right style for No More Mulberries but perhaps my next one will need to be different.


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