1. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    1st Person POV

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sprirj, Nov 28, 2010.

    This is not discussion about what POV I should write in, I know everyone prefers 3rd. BUT my book is 1st person and I was wondering if anyone had any hints or tips for writing in this way?
    I have just started to re-read my first chapter back, my writing has evolved dramatically since then (thank goodness). I know I won't use any of my first chapters in my final book, but I catch myself thinking "there must be a better way of presenting my ideas", I think I use "I" too much. Help!
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't prefer third person - Personally I prefer first person to write and of my top ten for reading seven are first person. The very best books I have to check what they are written in.

    I think getting to know the character you are inside the head of is the most vital you need to know how they would react to a given situation. I find mine works best because it is present tense with a huge amount of dialogue. Doing everything you can to avoid using I.

    Not expecting much from your first draft you need time to get to know the characters. It will be a little flat. And you need to be inventive to observe or report events you are not present at.

    I have just had some writing where I am unsure of my POV for the first time it is much more harrowing to be inside the head of the character during those times.
     
  3. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sprirj,

    I like the hyperbole:
    :)

    I've written and had short stories published in both 1st Person and 3rd Person Limited POVs. My novel is a 1st person POV novel.

    The first thing I would suggest is to determine what is the best POV to tell/relay the story you intend to write.

    Second, whether you stick with 1st person or switch, go to authors you've read in the POV you intend to write, and reread their works, but not for enjoyment. Study how they told the story. If you're struggling with overuse of "I", see how they avoided it--or if you're being overly senstive/critical to its frequency/use.

    Yes, your writing will continue to improve/evolve the more you practice, and the more you understand the story and characters in your novel.

    A lot of how you write in first person depends on the POV character and the setting, so really it's impossible to give sharp, direct advice. The reader is seeing the world through that character's eyes. What that POV character notices, thinks, ignores, believes, etc. the reader is privy to, and not much else unless you utilize other devices. With Flank Hawk, for example, I used what I called Chapter Starts (beginning with chapter 2 and ending at Chapter 28, where the action in the chapter starts merged with the events in the main storyline). I got the idea from a Steven Brust novel and modified it for my need.

    So, don't attempt to recreate the wheel, so to speak. Learn from what others have done successfully and go from there.

    Hope that helps a bit.

    Terry
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first of all, examine why you chose first... and what did you think you could do better in first than in third?...

    then think about these:

    who is the narrator supposed to be?... the main character?... is that you or a fictional person?

    why is s/he telling this story?

    can any other character tell it better?

    do any of the other characters need to tell their version of things?


    if you're satisfied with all the answers and still want it to be in first person only, then just work on wording that won't require so many 'i's and 'me's and 'my's... check out some bestselling first person novels and see how the pros manage that...
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Make the readers BE the character, not SEE the character.

    For example, don't say stuff like "I looked at," "I smelled the scent of.." "I was afraid of" etc because no one goes around thinking/saying that. Just say what they see without saying "I saw it" and SHOW, not tell, that they're afraid of something...

    Showing and not telling is especially important in first-person. In general, it's annoying when first-person characters go on big diatribes to describe themselves. Sometimes an author can pull it off, like if the narrator is a kid or if it's a humorous story or if you want to craete the tone of the MC talking to the reader...otherwise, steer clear...
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Yeah, I think Mallory's point is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when writing first person. It goes without saying that everything that is described is focussed through the narrated character, so your focus shouldn't on the character but on everything the character is experiencing. The best first person writing is generally quite subtle in terms of description and narration; write events as the character would experience them, rather than artificially inserting descriptions as you would in third.

    I do have to disagree with the 'show, not tell' comment though. First person is probably the only place where it is often preferable (or more sensible) to tell, rather than show, for the same reason as above. Someone describing their physical reaction to a particular emotion or experience makes about as much sense as someone saying "I saw/smelled/etc..." The trick isn't showing and not telling, but telling in such a way that remains interesting and engaging.
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    A 'show, don't tell' discussion will only lead nowhere, so I won't get involved in that except to say to ignore that and just try to capture the truth of any given scene/moment.

    The risk of first person is often inexperienced writers think it's 'easy' because they just ramble on stream of consciousness style thinking since the character is the narrator, it's okay for the character to simply stand for awkwardly long times in the middle of public places inner monologuing.

    Don't forget that a story is often a series of actions and reactions. And standing around thinking an entire story lacks action. And with no action, there's nothing worth reacting to.

    One test is to see how a passage sounds in third person. Several very experienced and widely published authors I know claim there is nearly no difference between first person and a limited/close third. I don't have the publishing credentials to make such claims without being burned at a stake, but one test to see if your first person is working is to translate it into third person. If in third person, it seems to ramble pointlessly or lack focus, etc, then maybe time to tighten some bolts.

    I also believe that the way first person 'seems' really easy leads to a lot of mistakes, and in the end makes it one of the harder povs to pull off. So don't get discouraged, but also realize it can be tough at times and will need extra attention, perhaps.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    For once I actually agree Aaron - for me the challenge writing first person has been getting the balance right. It is not the greatest piece of literature but it can engage a few readers - I accomplished it by almost placing a newsreel in his head - and making it feel like a mind invasion by the reader.

    Fact is I accepted the moment I added present tense lots of rules were going to be broken to make it work because the rules in place are mostly designed to work best in third person past tense.

    I used combination of middle/passive voice to create a history book feel to his observations - like this might be his autobiography.

    If the story can be told just as well in third person then do it that way - don't give yourself the constraints of first person. I do know my story could not exist in third person - not because of rambling but because I actually couldn't write a good portion of it - the thoughts, asides, humour etc would not work.

    You are right about it being a set actions and reactions though - I personally prefer more action than reaction. I also found I needed a larger cast of characters, however the God Box by Alex Sanchez was brilliant with a much smaller cast.
     
  9. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    The further away the PoV or "camera" is to the characters, the "easier" it is to write. That's a broad generalization though.

    1st Person PoV is hard to write because you have to make your protagonist likeable, believable, relatable, and human to a degree that's much much closer than any other PoV. If there's a slip somewhere, some show that it's not the protagonist or narrator speaking but someone else somewhere else, it'll jettison the reader out of the story at amazing speeds.

    Every last emotion, thought, action, etc. needs to hit the reader as hard as it's hitting the 1st person narrator, otherwise it simply won't work. 1st person PoV is also a very intense read, since the reader should feel everything directly instead of through inference or reflection. Pacing then becomes a major issue, so you don't emotionally overburden your reader or, contrariwise, make it too boring.

    I'd practice with some short stories first and, as others have said, read some novels that capture 1st person rather well. A Clockwork Orange is my first suggestion; it's one I've recently read, but also an amazing execution.
     
  10. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    General question: how is that any different than what 'should' be done with a limited, close* third person? How is first person much (x2) closer than a limited, close third that is trying to do all the same things you mention, and suffers from the same consequences if it isn't? And I'd argue a main character or pov character never has to be likable. Believable and relateable, yes, because empathy is far more important than sympathy.

    *I added 'close' since it's possible to write a limited third with the psychic distance still pretty far away from the character. Meaning the reader is limited to what the character is sensing, but not in the characters head fully to get emotional or cognitive reactions to those senses.

    Imo, the main differences between a close, limited third person and first person (that is also close and limited, since it isn't always) is from the perspective and approach of the writer and has little to do with some inherent nature of the pov.

    One of the biggest mistakes I see aspiring writers make is changing the pov thinking it will make a story more connected or powerful, when in reality pov makes little difference if one knows what they're doing. So, instead of going back and trying to make their third person story more empathetic and meaningful, they simply convert it to first person and think it's instantly fixed.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My first story would have been OK told third person. However it is much better told first person - Angus is the story, it is his growth from a seventeen year old layabout prince to king. There is a story without him but what he does is give it life. I could add observations that could not have been got away with in third person but are acceptable as thoughts of a seventeen year old boy. Just like it is present tense because of the way his brain functions. It has produced the issue that in order to enjoy a good story you have to like Angus lol fortunately more seem to like him than dislike him.

    I think it is a huge mistake to think POV does not impact on the story - it does. A great story is one where all the elements work together and that includes picking the POV it works best in.

    Also the skills for writing first, second and third person are different - if you convince yourself they are the same you are going to make a hash of it. The story should be tailored to the POV.
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Why not?

    POV does impact a story, but not outside what a writer does with it. Just like vocabulary impacts a story, but whipping out a thesaurus just to put in bigger words isn't going to fix a story that is flawed by remedial language abilities.

    Tell me what POV's work best for which stories. If this were the case, we'd see more instruction on this, when in fact the basic rule of thumb by every reputable instructor or writer I've ever seen is that POV only matters as far as the writer can handle it, and only superstitiously in the way a writer will claim it matters.

    POV is a necessary element, but writers are limiting themselves if they think there's a difference between first and third person when it comes to close, limited povs. The close and limited is the more important element that can drastically change a story, not whether it's first or third.

    Exactly. I agree. The skills are the thing that really differs between POVs: how well the writer handles them and what they feel more comfortable with.

    I agree that a story will change, and will require different skills between points of view... but not that there's much difference between a close, limited third and first person. People throw around the term first and third like there's only one way to do them, is the first problem. And then claim there's a difference because an omniscient, heavily narrated third person is going to feel completely different than a limited, close first.

    The real differences are the perspective (whether it's limited or not, and to which character or narrator) and the psychic distance (whether we're in the character head, watching the character, or simply being told about the character).

    These are the two things that make POVs different, not just whether it's first or third. At least if we're going to have the discussion we shouldn't generalize, as there is a huge range of difference even within any one of the simple POV of third or first. It's a mistake to say 'first person' or 'third person' and think it refers to one specific type of POV, when if fact it's only part of a POV (and imo the smallest part).

    Or do people think first person can't also done with distance from the character, or even effectively omniscient?


    edit: and I often see writers change the POV and the story improve, and they falsly credit the POV switch when in reality it was their new perspective on the story or revisions that actually improved the piece. Like I said, though, it can matter, but mostly to the writer, so whatever helps a writer achieve their goals, I support.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because it becomes the author's story and not his. The comments he makes in two scenes in particular come to mind their intimacy would not have been the same. I can't post any bits here - or my post will be removed.


    I am not a hugely experienced or educated writer but I am an avid reader of all sorts of books.

    Jane Eyre in third person would have been as dull as ditchwater. The God Box has the same issue as mine being in a teen boy's head, and Alex Sanchez I noticed exploited the same things I did. I think Nightingale Floor would be better third person personally but it is such a great story I ignored it.
     
  14. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I don't think there is any better 1st or 3rd person. It depends how you write it. I very recently read some books done in 3rd person (for example One Day) and I read some in 1st person (the Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim). Both worked perfectly for their book.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    So one can never give internal thoughts or commentary in a third person POV?

    Hrm. I guess I've been doing the impossible all these years. :p

    Intimacy is built through empathetic writing that delivers the connected experiences of the character... I still fail to see how that can't be accomplished (by thousands of stories a year) in the third person.

    I understand if you just prefer writing in first person, though, as it's sometimes easier for a writer to get inside the characters head. That doesn't mean it's impossible in the third person, or even that first person for those types of stories is even preferred.

    The thing is, good execution of point of view will be virtually invisible. Just like in much good writing, the writer becomes invisible (which can be done with a narrator voice taking over for the writer, or by tightening the distance to the character such that the pov character is effectively the narrator).

    One time, I wrote a story in third person, present tense, and nobody said anything about it in critique. Then, when the question was raised, most couldn't remember what POV style was even employed, and a few others even argued whether it was in first person. The mistaken assumption that a connected story HAS to be in first person had several writers arguing a third person story was in first person despite having read the story only days before. And then of course they were scratching their heads when they looked at the actual manuscript in front of them and ta-dah, third person. I took it as a compliment that in third person people felt so connected to the character they later mistook it for first person.

    Of course, someone mentioned it felt like first person only because it was in present tense, lol. but that's another set of misconceptions and assumptions I'll save for another thread. ;)

    Shrug. It doesn't matter. I just don't want any aspiring writers to think they HAVE to write in first person if they want a close, limited, connected-to-the-internal-workings-of-the-character type of story.
     
  16. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have argued this with a couple of people on here in the end I sent them bits - actually they agree my story wouldn't be as good. Also when I mentioned writing one of my stories third person my usual readers complained. The narrative tone to my story isn't unique but it has a distinct personality.

    Mine is first person and present tense - so not scared of the whole present tense either.

    EDIT I do agree with you to a point but I also feel person and tense is something to be chosen as a way of enhancing the story you have,
     
  17. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    Agreed with a lot of the posts after mine. Yes, a PoV should never be seen as a quick fix (in fact, nothing in writing should ever been seen as a quick fix), but each PoV carries with it either reader expectations or writer expectations. For first person, a reader can expect a great deal of detail for the protagonist/narrator, while the writer can expect to spend more time developing the protagonist/narrator that any other character. With third person, the reader can expect some in depth character development and reflection that extends past the protagonist, but nothing that's too intimate; readers may see this as a PoV breach. Writers working with third person can expect to expand on all the characters more if they wish, and can come as close to some characters as they wish, but again, can't work too internally with them.

    And I can agree with PoV isn't something that makes a story, but an element of it that can help tell it. In the example I gave, A Clockwork Orange, the story could've been told very successfully with a third person narrative. However, the subconscious horrors of the Ludovico technique can be better explored with a first person narrative, which may be why it was chosen.

    I personally find first person a bit harder to work with than other PoV's, simply because I need to know a lot more about a character that I'm working with, more so than I may need to work with them under a third person PoV (usually not by much though).
     
  18. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Heavily voiced characters are a bit easier to write in first person, but still possible in third. And a bit easier to accept as a reader, but only because of reader expectations that have become the norm. Especially lately, there's a shift away from heavily voiced third person narrators. But there's also lately been a bit of a revulsion to the talking-to-the-reader first-person character too.

    Basically, many expectations these days are trending toward no frills, get in the character's head as if the story is happening whether there's a reader or not sort of prose. A character talking to a 'reader' in that instance, makes them crazy, which has also fallen out of favor.

    I don't know if it's just an 'in my day' sort of thing, but it seems all fiction these days is trending toward controlled, as-it-happens sort of character-is-narrator sort of prose and any heavy narrator, whether third or first person, seems frowned on.

    Not saying it's good or bad, just that it is. Of course, if you can do it and make it work, you're the second coming of Hemingway.
     
  19. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I'm just trying to think but in the last 6 months I can think of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim as books which "address" the reader from 1st person.
     
  20. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yeah, there are always a long list of exceptions to every industry standard or trend. Does that mean I would advise an aspiring writer who's trying to break into the industry to attempt being those exceptions? No. Just like JK Rowling can have behemoth YA fantasy novels published no problem, but I'd advise if it's your first novel you're querying, for it to not be an epic. Then again, with enough confidence and good enough writing, I also say go for it.

    Depends on genres, too, of course. Some are more forgiving than others of various styles and techniques.

    Trends and expectations, not hardfast rules.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Look outward. Don't tell the readers what you see, feel, hear, think - show them. That way you will have much less need for those egotistical pronouns.

    Basically, you are writing third person, but from a perspective that is cold-welded to the narrator/observer. He or she only knows what he or she directly observes, and at any time can misinterpret those observations. limited by previous observations and personal non-omniscience.
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I did this from two of my stories - just the first two lines. Personally when I read the differences are very apparent.



    And from a more established author Charlotte Bronte in chapter 15 of Jane Eyre:

    Sure it is OK in third person but it loses impact.
     
  23. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yes, I agree. But it's not because of any grand limitations with a pov.

    Maybe you're just better with first person?


    The third person almost seems intentionally lifeless in translation.

    "Angus!" His father's angry holler disturbs Angus's late afternoon nap. Damn. Dad must have discovered he wasn't in school. Pretending not to be in his room, Angus places a pillow over his head.

    That's not exactly how I would write it organically, but I think a translation more in line with the first person example, and I don't personally think it loses much from what you've got in first person.

    To me the only real difference is needing to be a bit more careful with pronouns (and the risk that pedantic readers will insist the 'he' could be referring to the father finding out the father isn't in school and wanting to yell at Angus about it, or something equally removed from logical context).

    Shrug. Opinions.

    And not going to bother with text so old, as there's little point looking up the specs on a Model T if you're in the market for a new car.
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I did quite well third person past tense in a short story competition my characters and dialogue etc were complimented on and it was a deep emotional piece - third person past tense suited the historical ghost story. First person would have intruded on the atmosphere and present tense for two ladies one from the 1920s and another from the mid 1700s would have been ridiculous.

    Your translation doesn't have anymore life in it than mine did - Dad doesn't work as he calls him Dad but tends to think of him as my father it is part of the distance between them. Jane Eyre may be an old story but it continues to be read avidly and listed on favourite book lists etc Hollywood still have an interest in it for movies etc Charlotte Bronte clearly got something right - if you read the story carefully it could be turned into third person but it would have distanced the reader and I doubt the book would have held my interest.

    I can't quote or tinker with his work but more recent would be Alex Sanchez the books of his I have read are first person - and because they are set inside a teenager's head it suits the story better. Third person would remove the direct access to the teen brain from the story.

    I agree a new writer shouldn't just go for first person but nor should they just go for third. Like any other writer look at your story and work out what the POV will give to your story - what can you exploit - it is possible to hide things with first you can't the same in third without cheating the reader etc Use the POV to enhance your story.
     
  25. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    What do you mean?
     

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