First person writing

by H.B.
(Sugar Land, TX)

Question: Hello! I seem to have run into a bit of a problem. You see, the majority of my writings are in third-person, it's just what I prefer writing in. However, I have decided that, for this particular story that I have started on that a first-person narrative would be the best technique to utilize to have the novel be the best that it can be. Needless to say, I am rusty. Are there any tips or tricks you can suggest to help my first-person writing skills be better, and have the reader connect more to the character?

Answer: I personally feel that the strength of first person narration is that the main character or narrator can speak directly to the reader, which he/she can't do in third person. The reader becomes the character's confidant, which creates a certain intimacy. The main character is free to spout his opinion on things to the reader and to justify his actions. (Of course, it's up to the reader to decide whether to agree with the main character or take his side.)

This is particularly useful when you have a main character with an idiosyncratic point of view which the reader may not share or relate to. I'm thinking of books like A Clockwork Orange where the main character is not a very nice person or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, where the main character is autistic. In these stories, first person narration is used to help the reader sympathize with the character's situation. It's also quite useful when the reader might not understand why the main character behaves in a certain way, so you can have him explain himself to the reader.

The downside to first person is that it is limited. Your main character cannot perceive everything that is going on in the story world, including other character's thoughts - even if you have him do things like eavesdrop on conversations or read other people's emails. That means he may never understand fully what's going on with other characters. The reader may need to infer things the main character is too thick to realize. And the main character may find out some things only in hindsight or when another character explains them.

However, you may also use these qualities to your advantage. First person narration can be useful in stories where the main character misinterprets things that happen or misunderstands other characters.

Also, your main character is free to lie to your reader or misrepresent himself. It's up to you find clever ways to give the reader clues as to what the truth is.

Comments for First person writing

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Aug 22, 2011
Another Road
by: Nelo

Technically, you wouldn't have to choose, if properly done, you can do both 1st and 3rd person narratives. James Patterson in the Maximum Ride series does this around the third book.

What you would do is make your main character in the 1st person POV and then do one to two other characters in 3rd person. However, to do this properly, the POV should not change very often, mostly sticking to 1st with 3rd thrown in for very special reasons, or it seems pointless.

Mar 11, 2014
writing a narrative from a dog's point of view
by: Anonymous

i am writing a non fiction narrative from my dogs point of his voice. Is this done and is it acceptable. It is in the 1st voice...his voice.

Mar 12, 2014
Dogs as narrators
by: Glen

People have written books from the point of view of an animal, though generally in third person. Animals generally do not have a capacity for language, which makes it difficult for them to tell their story in first person.

That's not to say you can't find a creative way around this problem...superintelligent dog...technological fix... Sometimes readers will simply accept the conceit of talking animals if you do it in a convincing and endearing way (e.g. Charlotte's Web, Animal Farm).

It's not everyone's cup of tea, but what is?

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