Should novice writers avoid a 1st person POV?

by Josie

Question: I've begun plotting my story, intending to write it in the first person. However, today I was reading a book, Write Good or Die, in which one of the authors (David Montgomery) recommended the 1st person POV be avoided based on advice from thriller writer David Morrell.

In this chapter, he says:
"{1st person POV} is usually logically inconsistent- why is this narrator taking the time to sit down and pen a 300 page account of his/her life?" This is a realistic complaint, but one that never occurred to me when reading 1st POV novels. He goes on to say: "If you're going to do it, you better have a damn good reason and you'd better know what you're doing. ... most first person novels could be improved by a shift to the third person. {It} should only be done with great care by the writer, and only when the story demands it. ... Third person limited is the most often used POV and is the best choice for most stories."

I found this disheartening. I was hoping to write my story in first person because my POV character is experiencing a slightly distorted reality because of her mental affliction.

What do you think? Do you agree that 1st person POV should be avoided by novice writers?

Answer: Not all writing advice can be applied to all types of stories. You have to discern what is helpful and applicable to the story you are writing.

It's true that third person limited is the most common narrative mode and often the easiest. Stories where the emphasis is on external action (thrillers are one example) rather than the main character's inner conflict are more likely to be written in third person.

First person is a more intimate style that allows you to give the reader a more closer look inside the main character's head -- at her thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. As such,
it is more often used in thrillers with a psychological component (e.g. The Girl on the Train), in which the main character's grip on reality or sanity is uncertain or in which you want the reader to doubt the reliability of the narrator. In other words, the kind of book you are writing.

Of course, psychological stories can be more challenging, especially for writers whose natural instinct is to write external action. Making the character's voice authentic in a psych. thriller takes a different type of skill. On the other hand, some writers seem to be instinctively better at writing a character's inner life than external action. You may be one of those writers; I don't know.

As for finding a logical reason why a first person narrator is recording their life story in a book, it's really not that hard. Lots of people write their life story -- sometimes in diaries, sometimes when they are retired. Often they do it to give to their children.

On the other hand, how do you explain a third person narrator? Who is this entity who knows everything about the story world and manages to give a first-hand account of all the events but is not actually present for any of them? Or, if the narrator is actually the main character, why is she writing about herself in the third person?

Bottom line: if you have a strong feeling for how you should tell your story, don't let yourself be talked out of it by a book. Trust your instincts and the fact that you may not be writing the same type of book as the author whose advice you are reading. Maybe you should seek out advice from people who write the kind of books you'd like to.

At the same time, be willing to experiment with different narrative modes in order to find the one that your story come alive for you.

Best of luck.

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