4.10.2012

A to Z: "I" (or, Writing in the First Person)

I'm really drawn to first person narratives, in that way that a lot of YA writers tend to be.  There's something about the immediacy of being dropped into someone's brain that coincides really well with the immediacy of the teenage experience.  Everything is so here and now and me and my life when you're a teenager that sometimes third person can feel too distant.  You need to be there, with the character, thinking her thoughts right alongside her.  You need that rush of emotion that comes with standing on the edge of the world at fourteen or fifteen or sixteen and believing that you are as vast as an ocean and that everything is possible and that there is nothing you will not do in your life.  First person puts you right there, eyes wide and lungs filled, blood pumping hard.

That isn't to say that there's anything wrong with third person.  (Although - slight digression - have you ever thought about how strange third person is as a storytelling device?  It's so common that we take it for granted, but really, think about it: someone is telling you a story about other people, and dipping into their heads at will to tell you what they're thinking, and - in the case of omniscient narration - jumping from place to place to report back about what's going on in other places and in other people's heads.  I mean - WHO IS THIS NARRATOR??  Is he magic?  Is he telepathic?  How does he know so much about what all these different people are thinking?  It's quite rare that books answer that question - typically third person narrators aren't identified.  I'm just saying.  It's strange.)

Ahem.  But as I was saying: there's nothing wrong with third person.  I've actually been writing so much in first that I'm starting to crave writing third just to do something different.  But I understand the YA love for first.  "I" is the embodiment of the teenage experience.

How about you - do you find yourself writing in one POV more frequently than another?  Anyone want to make an impassioned case for third?


One month.  26 posts.  A to Z.  (Don't know what I'm talking about?  Check out the Challenge here.)

11 comments:

  1. Great post!

    I think the reason that third-person works so well for modern readers because it mirrors visual media -- movies, primarily. The "narrator" is like the literary equivalent of the camera: We follow the story through its POV. When it reveals the inner thoughts of the character, it's like a voice-over.

    I like third-person for this reason. As the writer, I'm like the director moving the camera to where I want my readers to focus. I can zoom in, zoom out, pan, and do all the same things a movie director does. I'm "filming" an inner-movie with words.

    ;^)

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    1. That's a great point, Chris. I'd never thought about it like that, but you're right. Excellent defense of 3rd person. ;)

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  2. I've done both. A lot of it depends on the genre and what the story calls for.

    Nice to meet you, and I hope you're enjoying the Challenge!

    KarenG
    A to Z Challenge Host

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  3. 'There's something about the immediacy of being dropped into someone's brain that coincides really well with the immediacy of the teenage experience.'

    This is very perceptive. Though I have written all four of my completed drafts in first person and only one was an adolescent narrator. Maybe it's because I never grew up inside ...

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    1. Ha! There's also just something very cool about dropping yourself into the head of another person, no matter what their age. :)

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  4. Oh... what a good question! Who IS the third person narrator?! Have you ever read The Book Thief? That's the ONE book I can think of where we as readers get to "meet" the narrator.

    In terms of my own writing, I'm more comfortable in 3rd, though I did just convert to 1st half way through my last story. That first read-through is gonna suck...

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    1. Ahh, the joy of first-drafting... :) Just goes to show that the story really does dictate the POV!

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  5. I remember reading books on writing that told me not to use first person. That it was too easy or limited or what beginners use. And I always rebelled against that – Treasure Island, Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, even Moby Dick. All my favorites. I always felt guilty about it, but I was like, screw it, I like it.

    And of course now here we are with the Hunger Games, first person. And Patrick Rothfuss’s huge fantasy. He said, “It seemed like the natural way to tell the story, and really, it is the most natural way to tell a story.”

    I've written third person, and some authors excel at it and some stories demand it, but it definitely feels strange with everything filtered through you, the narrator. Much better to slip into a story where you're invisible and the character is all.

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    1. Right there with you. Even if it's "easy," (and I don't think it is) it's powerful when done well.

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  6. Everything I've ever written has been in 3rd person, but 1st person feels more natural to me. The thing is, 1st person just doesn't cut it when your writing mysteries! :)

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    1. Ha, yeah... bit more difficult to do 1st in a mystery! :)

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