Writing

First Person Narrative

I have noticed a huge increase in stories written from the first person narrative perspective.  I think the draw of this perspective is that it can create an immediate intimacy between the reader and author without a lot of background work to achieve this intimacy. I also think it is a perspective that builds tension.

Dean Koontz, in his book Seize the Night, seize the nightutilized this perspective flawlessly.  Years though it has been since I first read it, I can remember the involvement I had in Chris Snow’s story.

Other books aren’t quite so successful, to be sure.

After careful thought, I believe a first person narrative has to do the following to be successful:

  • The author has to constantly remember the absolute limitations of the narrative voice. Unless the narrator is a mind-reader, there is no way he or she can be positive of any perception save their own.
  • The narrator’s vocabulary should always suit the narrator’s character during the narrative. Dialogue can be slanted, enhanced, changed up, but the thoughts of the narrator have to be consistent with this character.
  • Sensory perception has to be balanced with discussion to some degree.  Too much of one or the other leads to an unbalanced narrative.
  • The protagonist in the first person narrative should have their eyes open. If not for their own edification (they can be confused about events, or uncaring about details they note for the reader) then for the audience.
  • The author should try very hard to continue to work on the characterization of the entire cast of his novel as seen through the eyes of the protagonist.  Doing so makes the story more well-rounded.

I think, for me, this is a lot of work.  I know of writers who prefer this perspective, but I am not gifted enough to share a whole world solely through one pair of eyes.  I need at least the distance of a third person perspective, with the ability to call upon ways of describing things, saying things, that are not limited by my characters’ limitations.

Don’t know if I’m lazy, exactly, so much as I am more confident in third person. But there are drawbacks there, too. I’ll tackle them another day. 🙂

6 replies »

  1. Excellent points! I really enjoy writing in first person and the deliberately skewed perspective it gives the reader. It definitely has its drawbacks, but it has a lot of positives as well. Great post.

    • Hey, Sarah!
      Thanks! I don’t know how y’all do it. I mean, I’ve tried and all, but I feel like my hands are tied behind my back. I, er, use my hands a lot when I talk… lol The skewed perspective IS a bonus to this perspective, as you said. You can do all kinds of things that way. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Whenever I read your posts like this it is always like I have just sat through a writing seminar. You always give me something really good to think about that sparks other questions I should ask or take note on things to keep in mind. I have learned a lot from you, and I look forward to learning much much more! 🙂

    • Well, I thank you. If I am being of use or benefit to anyone, this is a good thing. 🙂 You are a delight in the universe. 🙂

  3. Nice job, Sandi. I think your post really captures the junk you have to think about in first person. Break any of those rules, and your story is going to fall apart.

    And it is really hard, but I do think it has its uses. My book is in first person and I think it helped capture the main character’s emotions and reactions in a much better way than I could have done in third person. On the downside, nothing important could happen without the main character being present. I found out that it’s easy to paint yourself into a corner that way, lol.

    • Hey, Mike! 🙂

      Oh yes, there are totally places for first person. And some people truly tell a better story that way. I am just not one of those people. lol As you say, painting oneself into a corner is too easy with that perspective.

      I am liking how yours is shaking down, though! I do hope he makes it back to his own self by the end of the story! lol