[Note: This post was previously an article on NRWick.com, 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?