I recently asked Deb Chester
about picking the voice in which to write, with the specific question whether using a first-person narrator really made any difference in getting readers to sympathize with a character.
But I didn't just rely on an expert. I did some data collection: I took a couple of chapters from Snowflake (intro posted here
) and – having converted one version into third person ("he thought" vs "I thought") – solicited feedback from a new-to-the-story reader as to which was better. I just got a call from the beta-reader who'd been given the chapters – which I stress were identical, except I'd converted one into third person. A couple of paragraphs in, he said the first person was closer and gave a better view of what was going on in the character's head. This was, of course, a complete illusion: nothing was different in the content except the switch of "I" and "he" and the endings of the corresponding verbs. Objectively, they had the exact same content.
After we chatted, he read a few more pages of the third-person version then called back to report that he didn't think there was much difference. But for gripping a reader out of the gate, the "big difference" he perceived in the first few paragraphs could make a big impact on hooking and keeping a new reader.
So, what's the result? Perhaps Deb Chester is right and I'm better at telling that character's story in the first person. Perhaps I've been reading so much first-person fiction lately that I have its pulse better. But at the end of the day, it looks like for the time being I should not work on converting Snowflake into Third Person, but work more on telling my intended story within the limits of First Person (what's going on in the other room when the narrator is absent? what about the plot against the narrator's objective that we'd enjoy having the reader anticipate, but which must be a surprise to the narrator when sprung?).
At any rate, a lovely benefit of using First is that I can continue to tell the story from the point of view of a character who is blissfuly lacking in self-awareness, so I can keep crucial facts secret from the reader even as they influence everyone who (a) interacts with the character but (b) says nothing about his distinguishing characteristics on the assumption these key facts are obvious to anyone looking at him. Playing with narrator's naïveté shall continue to provide good sport.