Last week I wrote about the different viewpoints, this week I want to discuss first person in more detail.
The more I study viewpoint the more apparent it becomes that there is no right or wrong. But there are pros and cons and whether or not they are pros or cons depends on you, the writer. I know, right? Can’t somebody just give me a solid rule that will solve all my issues?
Here is an example of first person:
She walked like beauty in the night, but in the harsh light of day, she was a bitch. She also happened to be my wife. You’d think I’d have figured this out before committing to a lifetime of misery, but she was a clever one. So subtle. So sly.
Looking back, I don’t know how I missed the signs. The well-meaning advice. The misunderstandings. The way she whittled away at my friends. Alienated my family, one honest comment at a time. It was the little things. The things you wouldn’t notice until it was too late. But, I am saving myself. Just in time.
Here are the pros and cons of using first person:
- It allows you to dive into a character’s mind. It gives you unlimited access to their thoughts and feelings. Good, yes? But it can also become all-consuming and exhausting.
- It limits your access to other characters’ thoughts and feelings. You can write in multiple first persons, but you have to make sure that the characters don’t sound the same. I’d love to hear what his wife has to say… You can’t rely only on using the character’s name as the heading of the chapter to do it for you. I don’t even read that and then I have to page back to figure out who is talking.
- Your character can’t be everywhere and he can’t hear everything. Multiple viewpoints will also help you here, but with a bit of a brainstorm you can think of other ways to show the story without having to resort to that. Eavesdropping on conversations can help him or her learn secrets. Snooping is great. Use cell phones and computers for your character to find out about things when he or she hasn’t been present.
- Your character shouldn’t be alone for too long. I’d say this for all viewpoints, but especially for first person. You’ll lapse into pages of interior monologue, angst, and explanations that can…yawn…put your reader to sleep. It makes you tell. Show me, please.
- Always with the ‘I’! Besides making your character sound like an egotistical maniac, your sentence structure can become repetitive. Be careful of starting every sentence with I. Use fragments, play with your word order. Be creative.
- Your story is told through one person’s perspective. This can limit your story, because your character might not have the vocabulary or skill set or experience to tell the story. Think of children, people with learning difficulties or very naïve people. All of these have been used brilliantly, so I go back to the introduction. You can do anything, as long as you do it well.
- Are you able to distance yourself from your character? Does it sound like you when you write? I am not talking about your style. I am talking about author intrusion. No preaching please. Or should you be reading the memoir posts?
I love first person. It is also the viewpoint most people write in when I put them on the spot. (I am evil like that, but it tells me so much about their writing.)
Always make sure you know whose story it is you want to tell and work from there. Happy writing.
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by Mia Botha
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