Thursday, April 14, 2011

I followed. He followed.

[Note: This post was previously an article on, but due to changes in the way the website will be, I am reposting it here so not to lose it completely.]

I will be the first to admit how much I loathe first person narrative. The argument that first person brings a reader closer to the characters and events of a story or that somehow it makes the reader empathise more escapes me completely. More often I find myself reading a few sentences into a novel written in first person and by the time I near the end of those first few sentences my eyes have completely unfocused and I am no longer reading but gazing vacantly at the inky print.

Why does this happen? The reason is due to the way most first person narratives are written. So many of them are written like glorified lists of actions and self inserts. It always feels as though the narrator is listing off things that happen, even if they are "showing" and not just "telling."

Then, there is this bizarre concept that first person is not only more personal but makes the reader connect more with the main character. The idea that a reader can only delve into the dark depths of the main character's thoughts and feelings through the use of first person is a destructive one when so many stories are prone to obvious self inserts and lack of substance. A main character that is devoid of their own well developed characteristics and mannerisms in order to be a place holder for readers seems more like a marketing ploy rather than an acceptable writing device.

In addition to this, I always wonder how skewed the narrator's perspective of things are. It drives me crazy. If it's unclear, then I spend the whole time wondering why I should care or trust anything they say. If the author's point is to make the reader doubt the validity of the narrator's perspective, then there should be clear signs of this. That doesn't mean it needs to be 'over the top' or 'in your face.' Subtlety is acceptable, unclear is not.

This is not to say that there is a lack of well written novels in first person. I know there are; I read one about a week ago. Stephen King's novella The Mist is written in first person. Had I known beforehand, I may not have picked it up despite my adoration for Stephen King. (Yes, that is the depth of my irritation for first person narrative.) However, the amazing thing is that while The Mist is in first person, it wasn't distracting and it didn't FEEL like first person. I did find myself wondering why the story was even in first person rather than third because it was written in a way that flowed as well as third person, but used the words 'I' and 'my' in place the words 'him' and 'his.' Not only did I not mind the first person narrative, I actually enjoyed it.

It was then I discovered that I don't loathe first person; I loathe first person that is written this way for the sole purpose of attempting to connecting with readers. With this understanding, I bring myself to the dilemma of which narrative to use in my new WIP. Normally, I wouldn't give it a second thought. I'd write it in third person and never look back. Even as I write this, I'm annoyed by the notion of considering first person. But the main character of my WIP is telling me her story and I am merely writing it down as a novel just as Stephen King wrote down David Drayton's story in The Mist. Do I go against my instincts to write in third person, even though I know that if I write in first person it will have a third person feel, or do I follow my instincts and write in a way that I don't particularly care for?


  1. The beauty of revision is that you can always go back and change it later. I'd say go with your instincts first - there are very good arguments out there for first-person, and I like it almost as well as third in most cases. Plus, it's much easier to do a search and replace for "I" and "me" and "my" than it is for the third-person equivalents.

    You may discover through experimenting with first person that you can find some arguments and merits to make you hate it less, even if it's still not your favorite. That will at least expand your reading-pool, if nothing else. ;)

  2. You are completely right. Even though I'm on the brink of the final pass for my WIP, which is also my thesis and due very soon, I still wonder whether I should have written it in first. In the end, I realize that it would probably only hurt my writing because I'm so bad with writing in first person. It's just so bad when I do and makes me loathe it more. But there is still that part of me that wonders if I should follow suit with most YA and change it to first. It's just a clunky, awkward way to write.

    This post is a repost of one from a while back and I've become slightly more accepting to first person. (I suppose I should have mentioned that somewhere in the post. It's there now, though.) There are still many books that I suffer through, but with so many amazing stories, I find myself less interested in their point of view and more interested in what's happening. For example, The Hunger Games. The narrative is quite jarring and sometimes the first person perspective drives me crazy, but I LOVE the series and can't get enough of it because the story is fantastic.