First Person POV - How to "tell"
by Ann Marie
Question: I am writing my first novel in a series and I have been writing in the first person for my main POV. Or at least I thought I was until I had another (new) writer friend of mine read my first 3 chapters for feedback.
In the first chapter, I have my main character explaining a lot about her past, as if she is telling her story. I believe that these are things the reader will need to know in the beginning so that they will not have confusion on who the characters are to each other, and a better understanding of why the character is trying to find a way out of the state and away from her destructive parents. Is it ok for her to "tell" here and not show? Or is the only way for a POV to "tell" in first person in dialogue?Answer:
The challenge you face is that too much telling, especially in the beginning chapters, tends to create distance between the reader and the actual events that are being described. Readers don't just want an account of what happened. They want to feel like they are there, as if they are the main character experiencing the story.
Sometimes you just need to balance telling with showing. In first person, the main character can tell the reader little bits of information interspersed within a scene that is being shown. This often work better than long passages of exposition which can disrupt the flow of action.
If there are key events in the past that you feel your reader needs to know, you might consider using flashbacks, so that you can show those events.
Another option is to start the story earlier - perhaps with an event that shows the parents' destructive nature from the main character's POV.
In fact, you should ask yourself why you are not starting with that event. It sounds like it is the initial driver of your story.
Usually, you would hide the initial driver if you want to create a mystery - i.e. make the reader wonder why the character has left home. If you don't want a mystery - if you feel the reader should know about the event upfront - then why not start there?
There are times when telling is preferable to showing, such as when you just want to transition from one key event to the next. Just make sure the reader has enough showing in the beginning to forge a close connection to your main character.