The narrators of written works explicitly refer to themselves using variations of “I” (the first-person singular pronoun) and/or “we” (the first-person plural pronoun), typically as well as other characters. This allows the reader or audience to see the point of view (including opinions, thoughts, and feelings) only of the narrator, and no other characters. In some stories, first-person narrators may refer to information they have heard from the other characters, in order to try to deliver a larger point of view. Other stories may switch from one narrator to another, allowing the reader or audience to experience the thoughts and feelings of more than one character or character plural.
- From the Wikipedia entry on First-person narrative
Though I widely read both third-person and first-person perspective and enjoy both equally, I’m sort of new to writing first-person narrative.
Back when I wrote fan-fiction, all my stories were from a third-person perspective, and this followed through into my first two novels. It worked for these novels, but as I moved to my third, and started focusing more on the romance I felt first-person worked better.
One of the key aspects to first-person, I’m my opinion, is the feelings of the characters. Something I’m working to develop with the help of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.
Writers are taught to show not tell, and I feel this is more easily accomplished through first person, as you’re inside the character’s head, experiencing what they do. You get an insight into their mind, and how they’re thinking and feeling about a situation.
Though anyone wanting to venture from third-person to first-person should be warned, it’s a lot more difficult than simply changing the pronouns and including more of the character’s (narrator’s) thoughts.
While third-person allows the writer to really explore and describe the surroundings, in first-person you’ve got to explore and describe the internal, and if you’re not in tune with your character, it can be hard to do that.
When writing in first-person, voice is more important than ever, and you have to become your character. Everything you put down on the page needs to sound as though it comes from their mouth (or mind). You have to be mindful of vocabulary, and not use words that your character wouldn’t be familiar with due to race, social class, time period etc.
Another difficulty to overcome when writing first-person is making sure not to frustrate the reader by keeping the character/ narrator in the dark for too long. If something is becoming obvious within the story, the narrator needs to figure it out at a reasonable speed (at around the same time the reader does), or the plot will begin to drag.
On the flip-side to that, make sure your character/ narrator isn’t privy to information he or she wouldn’t know because they weren’t there. You as the author may know Mrs Jones down the road has pink underwear, but unless your character has seen it first hand, they don’t!
Though first-person narrative has many aspects to be aware of, and switching to it from third-person can be quite an adjustment, when done properly it adds a new depth and level of personalness to a story, which can be greatly rewarding for both author and reader.
I hope this is helpful to anyone writing first-person narrative for the first time, and if you’re after some recommendations for great first person books, may I suggest the following:
Daughter of Glass, by Vicki Keire
Paranormalcy Paperback, by Kiersten White
The Vampire Lestat, by Anne Rice
Game On, by Kyra Lennon
The Name of The Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (which is divided into two timelines: the first in the present, described in third person; the second in protagonist Kvothe’s past, narrated by Kvothe himself to a renowned ‘Chronicler’.)