Friday, May 28, 2010

First Person

Last week we had a pretty good chat here at the Inkpot about third person (3P) narratives and "telling." So, I guess it's time to talk about first person (1P). The thing about 1P narratives, of course, is that they are all telling; the form is pretty much a monologue. Even when dialogue is included, it's there under the umbrella of "This is what we said, according to me."

I'm revising a novel now and am switching it from 1P to 3P. Who knows where it will end up. For many reasons I think it's wicked hard to write in 1P, the primary one being it's so easy to mess up point of view as you try to tell the whole story. That's not the reason I'm backing off from it now. Why am I switching to 3P? I guess because I think 1P works best when the story calls for tunnel vision. Perhaps this is why it's such a popular match with YA fiction and the me-me-me of adolescence. I've used a 1P narrator in 3.5 of my books. Discount the .5--I used it that time to vary things in a dual-narrator book. But the other books starred girls who were obsessed, blinded to the larger picture because of one thing or another.
My current protagonist is not so focused; to the contrary, she's very much an observer of things. And the scope of a 3P narration feels better. For now.

Some readers hate 1P narratives. Some writers never work in anything else. Thoughts?



  1. At the Writing in the Woods retreat with Jane/Marsha C./Phyllis last week, Marsha C. quoted the K-man--calling him that because it's too taxing to spell his last name--as saying the only reason to use 1P is if you have a main character with attitude.

  2. I just finished re-reading Because of Winn-Dixie, which is told in first person. It works perfectly in this gentle book. But for the most part, I have to agree that 1P should usually be reserved for the character with attitude, and then only if we have to live with them for 150 pages or fewer. I start feeling claustrophobic when trapped in someone else's head for long. Things better zip along--like they do in Feed--or I feel a panic attack coming on.

  3. 3rd vote for reserving 1st for a character with some edge. I've read far too many teen novels with bland, lifeless 1st person narrators. Edge, or as an exercise to get into a thick character's head (or a character's thick head, whatever).

  4. I find this an interesting discussion--maybe third person in YA is making a comeback? It's been a long time since first person present tense was the popular pov, and with the political trauma of the world it makes sense the field would go back to third person.

    Personally, I use first person only in my longer work and either first or third in my picture books. I never really question which point of view or which tense to use (I've used past and present in both pic books and YA). If I do have to question it--and there have been times--it usually means the work is a wash.
    That's not to say I'd never write third person YA but for now whenever I try I hate the voice. I'm a firm believer in trusting your gut. I think first person can be any type (edgy or gentle, attitude or no) and it can work.

  5. It is interesting these rules that are created. I think when Eloise came out it was very unusual to have a first person picture book, and pretty much a rule not to write a picture book in 1st person. But now there are quite a few that are first person. I would say, it's still a lingering rule but one that is broken frequently.

  6. I just finished Going Bovine, and 1st person is the only way that book would work, since the story is all in the head of the main character.

  7. Fascinating. MQ, is this a YA?

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  9. I've tended to need first person for male protagonists, to draw them close enough to me. And then I usually use third for females, to push them a little away from me.

    That said, true omniscient fascinates me; it's clearly the most versatile and powerful POV and I can't understand why it's become so rare.

    Nancy W.