Author Topic: [Guide] First Person Narratives  (Read 2084 times)

bardsandsages

[Guide] First Person Narratives
« on: September 18, 2018, 06:27:14 AM »
For purposes of encouraging craft discussions:

First person narratives are popular in several genres but reviled in others. Folks often come down strongly on one side or the other. Like anything else in writing, knowing the limits of a style and recognizing potential pitfalls in advance can help a skilled writer avoid problems with their story. I've often said that first-person narratives are incredibly difficult to do well, as they are dependent on the personality of the narrator to carry them. But it can be a powerful storytelling technique if approached carefully and with thought.

https://bardsandsages.com/juliedawson/2013/10/24/first-person-narrative-pitfalls-reprint/
« Last Edit: September 20, 2018, 03:57:14 PM by TimothyEllis »
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Llano

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2018, 08:40:16 AM »
Keep them coming. It's critical to populate this forum with useful posts quickly.
 

Kate Elizabeth

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2018, 01:18:11 AM »
Maybe it's where I read so many 1st person narrative stories growing up, but I find that my preference in writing is using 1st person narrative.  I can write in 3rd, and have done so, but especially for chick lit, I do it best in 1st.  Thanks for the article, Julie.  That was very informative.
 

idontknowyet

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2018, 02:43:51 AM »
Before I started writing I knew that POV was an important part of writing a story, but as a reader I really didn't care. I've since went back to look at some of my favorite books and noticed that many authors switch from 1st person present to 3rd with in a story sometimes even within a chapter.

I now find personally I prefer to read and write in 1st person present, but I really don't think reader care much about POV.
 

elleoco

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2018, 07:57:36 AM »
A lot of my favorite mysteries are first person, but I wouldn't read a first person romance. My guess is a lot of readers feel that way as there aren't a lot of first person romances, at least in the subgenres I write.

As a writer, I learned a lot about POV when I wrote my dog mystery in first person. I'd recommend trying it just for that reason.

sstreet

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2018, 08:39:49 AM »
I write YA Romance and it seems most of the books in that genre are first person. Some are first person present and some are first person past tense. Ugh. I really have an issue with this topic as a writer.

I said vs. I say. Etc.

As a reader I can't say I prefer one over the other too much, but I've had some reviews that state a dislike of reading in the past tense. However, I also struggle with keeping tense when I write present tense. I have no idea why this is so difficult for me.

Also, I LOVE romances in first person, they feel a lot more intimate. I read a lot of Christian romance and they are usually not first person and I always wish they were, with alternating POV's.  Interesting how everyone has such different preferences.
 

elleoco

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2018, 09:48:11 AM »
Also, I LOVE romances in first person, they feel a lot more intimate. I read a lot of Christian romance and they are usually not first person and I always wish they were, with alternating POV's.  Interesting how everyone has such different preferences.

Maybe it has to do with intimacy level? You're mentioning a subgenre without sex scenes. I don't even read very spicy romance and sometimes it feels voyeuristic. First person? No thanks.

guest120

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Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2018, 10:43:53 AM »
I enjoy writing in first, but also third. Tense is usually where I run into trouble. I know present tense is popular in first person, but I find it tough to do well.
 

Tulonsae

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Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2018, 11:15:32 AM »
The only way I can read first person present is if I convert all the sentences to first person past in my brain as I read. That's the only way I could finish Hunger Games. And it's so tiring, I just don't read first person present anymore.

I know that it's very popular for a lot of people. So, I spent some time thinking about it and finally figured out why. It's too personal for me. Especially when a lot of the books I read are about younger people. I'm not that young. And I don't want to remember the days when I was that young (too much unpleasantness).

Anyway, it feels very odd to read things as if I'm doing them when it's something I'd never do and is a personality I could never be. But then, I also have trouble with the entire affirmations thing. I have to figure out how to phrase it so my brain doesn't immediately go "you're lying".

Now, first person past works for me, because it feels like someone else is narrating their story. And I am interested in other people's experiences and personalities. I just can't adopt them as mine. (Unless I'm role playing.)
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idontknowyet

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2018, 12:55:06 PM »
I write YA Romance and it seems most of the books in that genre are first person. Some are first person present and some are first person past tense. Ugh. I really have an issue with this topic as a writer.

I said vs. I say. Etc.

As a reader I can't say I prefer one over the other too much, but I've had some reviews that state a dislike of reading in the past tense. However, I also struggle with keeping tense when I write present tense. I have no idea why this is so difficult for me.

Also, I LOVE romances in first person, they feel a lot more intimate. I read a lot of Christian romance and they are usually not first person and I always wish they were, with alternating POV's.  Interesting how everyone has such different preferences.

Didn't really think about the said vs say issue in 1st person present.

Looking back at my writing if I tag before the quote I use say and after the quote I use said.

Example  I say, "I am going to the park."
"I am going to they park." I said.

Would this be correct. Grammar is soo not my thing. If so i might need to change like a million tags.
 

Joe Vasicek

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2018, 02:29:27 PM »
Personally, I can't stand anything in present tense. First and third person are both okay, though.

Robert Charles Wilson wrote a trilogy where the first book (Spin) was in first person but the other two books (Axis and Vortex) were in third. That's probably breaking the rules according to someone, but I thought it worked quite well. Probably helped that Spin was a really fantastic book.
 

Becca Mills

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2018, 03:18:59 PM »
Personally, I can't stand anything in present tense. First and third person are both okay, though.

Robert Charles Wilson wrote a trilogy where the first book (Spin) was in first person but the other two books (Axis and Vortex) were in third. That's probably breaking the rules according to someone, but I thought it worked quite well. Probably helped that Spin was a really fantastic book.

Spin has sequels?! How did I not know this??
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Mark Gardner

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2018, 03:24:31 PM »
Spin has sequels?! How did I not know this??
not paying attention?
 

Joe Vasicek

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2018, 03:55:31 PM »
Personally, I can't stand anything in present tense. First and third person are both okay, though.

Robert Charles Wilson wrote a trilogy where the first book (Spin) was in first person but the other two books (Axis and Vortex) were in third. That's probably breaking the rules according to someone, but I thought it worked quite well. Probably helped that Spin was a really fantastic book.

Spin has sequels?! How did I not know this??

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Kate Elizabeth

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2018, 02:12:57 AM »
I used to write in 1st person past, but the last few stories I've written have been in 1st person present.

I was reading a really great book a couple of years ago, and I was halfway through before I realized that it was 1st person present.  So, I guess it doesn't bother me as a reader.
 

guest215

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2018, 02:40:45 AM »
Close third person in past tense is my default, as it is the modern approach to narrative that allows a character's thoughts to feel natural, while allowing evidence of interpersonal byplay. It feels natural, and is intuitive to the reader. I would encourage new writers to use close third person in past tense while they develop their style and voice.

Sometimes close third person isn't right, though. When you have experience, you know when to break the rules to good effect. I have one series that simply didn't work in the third person, or in past tense. Putting it in first person present is what made it work, and keeps it on the lists.

I also have a plot bunny running around my head for my next book after my current WIP, and nothing will work for that story but first person.

Experience, I think, is what makes these choices effective in setting the right mood and telling they story they need to. Know your genre, and know your writing.



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Cathleen

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2018, 03:38:25 AM »
I love first person. I drafted my first five novels all in first past.

Okay, they all need to be re-written (and after sooo much editing, too). But I always thought first person was great for starting out, since it eliminated POV violations. However, reading Julie's post, I guess that's not the case for everyone.

I've tried to increase my skills at third-limited since that seems to be the current go-to POV, and I don't need any more problems trying to get some traction with readers. Most of what I write is in third-limited now.

But once in a while, I drop back into first, usually for a short story, just for the pleasure of it. And for some reason, when I'm a non-human character, it's always in first present. Go figure [insert shrug here].
 

Jeff Tanyard

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #17 on: September 21, 2018, 02:36:45 PM »
First person past is awesome as hell.  It was all the rage in the 19th century, and a lot of the classics are written in that style.

I won't read first person present at all.  It's got its fans, but I'll never be one of them.
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R H Auslander

Re: First Person Narratives
« Reply #18 on: September 22, 2018, 02:27:37 PM »
A lot of my favorite mysteries are first person, but I wouldn't read a first person romance. My guess is a lot of readers feel that way as there aren't a lot of first person romances, at least in the subgenres I write.
As a writer, I learned a lot about POV when I wrote my dog mystery in first person. I'd recommend trying it just for that reason.

I wrote all four of my books in first person, for me it was the easiest way to write. I 'looked inside' your Rottie book, interesting story and I'll probably buy it. I don't know how, yet, to post my books as part of my signature, but my one book on dogs, it's the dog who does the narrative and is the listed author. She's very young at the beginning, and her narrative gives a look at life from her point of view. For instance, 'glass' is 'hard stuff I can see through', auto is 'room that moves' and such. Her second book is about 50%, and in that tome some mystery will enter in the plot line. The third book will start her mystery series.

My other books, more than one character does the narrative. I try to put the personality of the character who does the narrative in to their verbiage, but not so much that it distracts from the story line.
 

Max

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #19 on: September 22, 2018, 02:49:48 PM »
I love when I read a book done so well that I don't even notice (or care) about tense or pov. It's such a joy and makes my blood sing when that happens. It's a skill I don't possess.
But as far as my own writing goes, close third has become my mainstay.
 

PJ Post

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #20 on: September 22, 2018, 03:07:48 PM »
I write exclusively in first present: 80's nostalgia love story, post-apoc and cyberpunk so far. I just like working with the limited perspective while still trying to tell a big story. Love it. And I think Julie's right, it is tough to do well. I'm not saying mine are necessarily done well, just that they were tough to write. For example, how do you let the reader in on the "secret", while keeping the MC in the dark, you know, the person narrating?

In keeping with the thread idea:

For those writing first person (past or present), what have been your toughest hurdles to overcome?
And for those that read it (or don't), what are your biggest complaints, apart from - "hate it"?
 

Tulonsae

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #21 on: September 22, 2018, 03:41:28 PM »
I write exclusively in first present: 80's nostalgia love story, post-apoc and cyberpunk so far. I just like working with the limited perspective while still trying to tell a big story. Love it. And I think Julie's right, it is tough to do well. I'm not saying mine are necessarily done well, just that they were tough to write. For example, how do you let the reader in on the "secret", while keeping the MC in the dark, you know, the person narrating?

In keeping with the thread idea:

For those writing first person (past or present), what have been your toughest hurdles to overcome?
And for those that read it (or don't), what are your biggest complaints, apart from - "hate it"?

I mentioned why I can't read first person present earlier in the thread.

I started my current WIP as 3rd person past (close 3rd), but after 2 chapters, I had to switch to first person past - cuz the story insisted. It doesn't seem that hard, but maybe that's because I've read a lot of first person past the last few years. Of course, I haven't gotten far enough long to see what an editor thinks...
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TinkSaid

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2018, 09:55:34 PM »
I love when I read a book done so well that I don't even notice (or care) about tense or pov. It's such a joy and makes my blood sing when that happens. It's a skill I don't possess.
But as far as my own writing goes, close third has become my mainstay.

Agree!

Although I find it useful sometimes to bash out an occasional chapter opening as a rough draft in first, just to get an inside track on the pov character's motivation.
 

formerly Sapphire

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2018, 10:18:13 PM »
It's a good craft experiment to write different stories using the different tenses. Nothing can make you more aware of both the obvious and the subtle differences in impact than creating an entire story. I'm currently working on a new novel where the main character goes away from the physical area where events continue to happen whether she's present or not. The chapters in which she's physically present are written in first person, present tense. When she is miles away, chapters are written in third person, past tense. I like the effect. So does my critique group. However, it's tricky. I catch myself slipping into the wrong tense if I don't stay on guard. I, also, have to work hard at remembering what is possible for any one character to know. The final result will be interesting.

ETA grammar error :eek:
« Last Edit: September 23, 2018, 12:39:21 AM by formerly Sapphire »
 

RCoots

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #24 on: September 22, 2018, 10:35:53 PM »
Oh. Interesting. Myself, I don't write in first person, because i want a little more flexibility to see outside my character. Do do write a relatively close third, but that's just me. And if I wrote romance, I'd probably make an effort to write in first, since that seems to be the...not trend these days. Prevailing? Prevailing way to write romances. I don't mind reading first, so long as it's done well. Same with third person, etc.
 

MelanieRay

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Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #25 on: September 23, 2018, 06:10:52 AM »
I have written in each, but I prefer close third person. I haven't ever gotten grief for my first persons, though those were ya and I think it handles first person better.

My next book though isn't ya and it will be in first person since both of my characters are mute. I need to get the audience as close as possible to them. Third person simply doesn't cut it for it. We'll see how it goes.
 
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Joseph Malik

Re: [Guide] First Person Narratives
« Reply #26 on: September 23, 2018, 07:57:53 AM »
Great article, but understanding and recognizing the various narrative POVs resident within first person is just as important as understanding limited vs. omniscient when writing in third. Simply choosing "first person" is not remotely sufficient. In fact, it's often a recipe for disaster.

There are at least six first-person POVs that I can think of. (If you know of more, please add them.)

Subjective narration. This is the most common first-person POV in fiction. This is a narrator interjecting their own commentary while telling the reader about something that happened to them. There are angles and shades to this, including the Unreliable Narrator, which is exactly what it sounds like. Mr. Lockwood in Wuthering Heights is an unreliable narrator.

Interior monologue. This is less common, and there’s a trick to it: the audience for the interior monologue is the narrator themselves. The narrator doesn’t speak to the reader; the reader is looking into the narrator’s mind. If this sounds confusing, it’s because it is. But it’s powerful when it’s done well.

Interior monologue with stream of consciousness. Less common still. This is interior monologue, but the writing flows as if it’s just words going through the narrator’s mind–there’s no way that this is possibly happening holy crap this thing totally happened and yet the words keep flowing OMG make it stop. There can be lots of run-on sentences, but there don't have to be. Again, this is spectacular when it’s done well. The Catcher in the Rye is interior monologue with stream of consciousness.

Memoir. This feels a lot like subjective narration, and reads similarly on its face. And more confusingly, “memoirs” are often written in first-person subjective. However, “memoir” as a voice tends to be more emotionally and temporally distant, and generally more factual, than first-person subjective. It’s more of a stylistic consideration than a point of view in and of itself. It’s a feel thing, and it’s hard to dial in except that you’ll know it when you see it after you’ve read enough of it. Memoir voice is typically done in past tense, but often jumps around in time, as well, interjecting current considerations and follow-on effects into the narrative. The scenes in Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain where the main character (the dog) is narrating about his family–the scenes where he is NOT the main character, but a peripheral character–are told in memoir. The scenes where the dog is central to the story are told in subjective narration. The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of the best recent examples of different voices inside one POV. It should be on every author’s bookshelf. It’s practically a textbook on first-person voice.

Detached. Memoir voice from even further away, emotionally and temporally. A narrator telling a story about something that happened to them either long ago, or far away. Rarely enters present-day, and rarely refers to follow-on effects. Detached often has a clinical feel. I don’t know of any examples off the top of my head where detached first person is used for the entire book, but I can see it b