The First Versus Third Pseudorule And Other Myths

The narrator is a character, and you should think of your narrator as a character whether or not you're writing in the first person. Don't believe the pseudo-rules about what you can do in first versus third person. Virtually anything you can do in first person you can do in third and vice versa.

Take Camus's The Stranger, which uses the first-person narrator to create what is often called "intimacy." You've no doubt been told this cannot be achieved with a third-person narration. In the following scene, the first-person narrator has arrived at the funeral parlor where his dead mother had been laid out:

Just then the keeper came up behind me. He'd evidently been running, as he was a little out of breath.

"We put the lid on, but I was told to unscrew it when you came, so that you could see her."

While he was going up to the coffin, I told him not to trouble.

"Eh? What's that?" he exclaimed. "You don't want me to ... ?"

He put back the screwdriver in his pocket and stared at me. I realized then that I shouldn't have said, "No," and it made me rather embarrassed. After eyeing me for some moments he asked:

"Why not?" But he didn't sound reproachful, he simply wanted to know.

"Well, really I couldn't say," I answered.

He began twiddling his white mustache, then, without looking at me, said gently:

"I understand."

The narrative is intimate and personal, and nicely done. It evokes the feeling of awkwardness and sadness common to these occasions. Let's see what happens when we change this to third person:

Just then the keeper came up behind Meursault. The keeper had evidently been running, as he was a little out of breath.

"We put the lid on, but I was told to unscrew it when you came, so that you could see her."

When they were going up to the coffin, Meursault told him not to trouble.

"Eh? What is that?" the keeper exclaimed. "You don't want me to ... ?"

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