Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Person

Some thoughts when you're trying to decide your voice--Gems from Nancy Kress in Write Great Fiction.
  • Provides immediacy – character’s sensations
  • Language – directly shows character
  • Effective at presenting quirky characters
  • Con: Range is limited
  • Con: Character must be there
  • Con: Cant share info the POV doesn’t have
  • Con: Must divulge POVs knowledge, not like in 3rd person
  • Con: not natural (to tell about self for hundred of pages, with perfect recall in conversation and events)
 Write Every Day!



  1. The Last Stand for First Person

    As a disclaimer, I confess I’m a first-person fanatic. I drink up all the reasons it’s useful and without shame, eat the negative reasons for lunch.

    I don’t understand the “Range is limited” comment. My first-person characters have been pirates, savant mechanics, precocious ten-year-olds, animated objects and treasured ideas. Haven’t met a wall a first person can’t get over. Maybe I don’t understand.

    “Character has to be there.” You mean “here”. Duh! Being here is more real than being some other way. It’s much more interesting if it’s happening to me— right here, not over there or back then. It’s here and now. I would argue the first-person perspective is more engaging for the reader, too.

    “Can’t share info the POV doesn’t have.” True, but I can imagine it, study another characters actions, surmise from those actions his intent, watch for inconsistencies, ask questions and consider the behavior and words in response. So much more fun and so many more opportunities to be creative. I get to unravel the story right along with the reader. The reader’s behind my eyes.

    “Must divulge POV’s knowledge, not like 3rd person.” Sure, I usually tell myself what I know, but rarely do I know it all (contrary to the opinions of my friends). I know what I know, a third person knows what he knows—or what we as writers share with them. I observe and learn what I can, just like a 3rd person would. Maybe I don’t understand.

    “Not natural (to tell about self for hundred of pages, with perfect recall in conversation and events)” Wow, would this be boring or what? My first persons don’t walk around in a story holding hands with themselves. They’re engaging others, making things happen, having stuff happen to them. They don’t recite their personal history perfectly, at least not hour by hour; they experience life and share their insights and observations about that experience. I think it’s perfectly natural to have all the thoughts and feelings 3rd person characters have. I ate apple pie for lunch and it was good. Sam ate apple pie for lunch and it was good. We both ate the same apple pie. Must I report it differently? Can Sam share some insight that isn’t on my tongue, too?

    I encourage writing in first person because it is so up close and personal: You can’t escape to an arms length position with an emotion, thought or action like one can in third person. I have to be spot on with the character, how I think or feel. In first person, sloppy or poor characterization can’t be blown off as “quirky”, unless one wants to be seen as a fool.

    First person is the ideal place to start for first-time penman. Who sees, hears, knows better about his experience than a first-person? No need to worry if the character sounds or acts “right”. Just put it down as one sees or feels it. Concentrate on language instead of getting all wrapped up in story.

    Finally, no matter what you call it, first-person is usually read as third-person. The reader knows he’s not the one wrestling the alligator. It’s the author, the person writing the book, the guy who probably lives in the Keys or where ever, a million miles from the reader’s living room. Sure is scary, though: “I barfed up an ugly scream as the alligator’s jaws clamped down on my leg…”

    If you’re really good at first-person, the reader will reach down to feel for his leg while ripping to the next page. Yeah, immediate and real, bubba.

  2. No one has ever stated you don't write with emotion, John. ;O)