There are many ways to tell a story
Choosing the narrative voice is just one way to impact your story. That voice can be a number of things, ironic or introspective, enthusiastic or cold, joyful or haunted. The way you tell your story depends much upon the story you are trying to tell. Do you want to get into your character’s minds, or watch them from a distance? Do you want to add your own commentary to the story, or stick to what the characters think? You have many options. Let’s focus on point of view though.
A third person narrative tells the story from a perspective outside of any one particular character. It discusses the events from a slightly removed position. “Billy went to the store to get a beer.” Some of the decisions involved with the third person POV include whether or not the narrator has access to the character’s thoughts or merely their actions, and whether or not the narrator has an opinion about the actions happening in the story. Finally, there is the decision of whether or not to follow more than one character. A narrative can be in the third person, but still, only focus on the actions of a single character.
First person is told from the perspective of a character within the story, usually the lead character but sometimes a peripheral character that happens to know most of the events either through observation, participation, or through someone else telling them what happened. “I went to the store to get a beer.” It is also possible to have multiple first-person narratives, with the perspective shifting by chapter or by scene from one storyteller to another.
Reliable or Unreliable Narrators
In first person narratives, the character sees everything from their own point of view. This means that they cannot know what happens unless they observe it or are told it, and the way they observe the story may be pretty close to the facts or skewed by their own perceptions. A story narrated by a pathological liar or a child, for example, may not accurately reflect the reality of what is going around them. Third person narrators are usually not unreliable, but it is possible to do this as well.
What Are Your Needs?
Choosing which type of narrator to have can be difficult. You want the narrator that is going to best reflect the needs and goals of your story. A story with twenty different characters, for example, may need a third person narrator simply because a single character within the story may not be able to observe or even be told all of the things that occur. A first person narrator, however, generally adds a level of immediacy to the story, and the fact that they are seeing what happens from the character’s perspective may increase the reader’s feeling of connection to the story.
Once you choose a voice though, especially if you are trying to work quickly for a deadline like Nanowrimo, you need to stick with your first choice. Changing the narrative voice requires a great deal of editing and can take quite a lot of time.