1. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    1st Person - YA and beginners only?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Aug 19, 2016.

    I've been wanting to start a thread on this for some time, but have avoided doing so for fear that a possible consensus would discourage my writing.

    Incidently, I ask that people try to avoid turning this into another 1st Vs 3rd discussion, as we already have a sticky for that.

    I've tried writing in 3rd, but am much much happier in 1st and have chosen to stick with this POV (right or wrong).

    However, during some recent digging on the subject I was a little perturbed to discover how many people consider a first-person narrative to be primarily for beginners or writers aiming at the YA market.

    Where does this idea come from? On what grounds are the opinions based?
     
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it may be easier to write competently in first person without a lot of thought or experience - it may feel more instinctive to new writers? So maybe that's why it's common among people just starting out.

    But I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with continuing to write in first if that's what works. Walker, Camus, Fitzgerald, Nabakov - I don't think they're rookies.
     
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  3. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm also writing in 1st, but my novel isn't YA. I believe I posted a similar thread, because you don't see a lot of 1st person fantasy stories, and I was worried it would be a major turnoff for some readers.

    I think the reason it's so suitable for YA is because those readers want to live vicariously through the MC, which is easier to do in first. I agree with that one.

    But I think the reason people believe it's best for "new writers" is because they assume it's easy. And IMO, that couldn't be further from the truth.

    I wrote the first chapter for my novel in both third and first because I couldn't decide which to go with. I ended up choosing first, and it's been more difficult for me than third. You can't be yourself while writing first. You can't use your typical voice and style, because you aren't you, the writer. You have to be your character. You have to write exactly the way your character thinks. And for me, it's not easy to get 100% into my characters head while still providing all the necessary information. To write first person in a way that is engaging and exciting requires skill both in your writing and in your character creation.

    It's early, so I'm not explaining myself properly, I think... But essentially, I think people equate first person writing as simple (see above), and it's far from it.

    ETA: I should mention I've never written in first before now. In almost ten years of writing, this is my first attempt, and it's been more difficult for me than all other third person stories I've tried.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The idea comes from people being misinformed. I'm not sure I've heard that one, personally, but to me it would cast doubt on any subsequent statement the person makes about writing and literature.

    TKAM (unless you want to argue target audience)
    Lolita
    The Stranger, by Camus
    On the Road
    &c.

    There are plenty of counter examples. The people you are speaking with must simply not be aware of them.
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I'll chip in with Len Deighton's earlier works...Ipcress File, Horse under Water, Billion Dollar Brain, An Expensive Place to Die...
     
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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's based mostly on trend, I would think. A lot of the work you mention happens to be written in 1st person. But, as mentioned already by @BayView, if you draw one of those overlapping circle diagram thingies, under no circumstances is 1st person narrative only for angsty teen YA novels. Think of this as a kind of sampling error. When I was a younger person, newer genre lit novels hitting the shelves, aimed at me, were written primarily in 3rd person limited, and people older than me will point to a time when 3rd person omniscient was everywhere, and go further back than that and you find 1st person again abounds. Any of these groups will probably feel most comfortable (generally speaking) with the kind of writing that was happening at the time that they were the prime target audience for book sellers, and may well voice opinions to the tune of being beholden to one style and eschewing another.
     
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  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks everyone - I read those comments with relief.

    I don't think I was ever really concerned, as a couple of you have already used examples of other works. The Booker Prize winning Headlong by Micael Frayn is written in first-person and present tense, so there's another.

    I'm making it sound like some silly battle now, but I do take relief from these.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Just woolgathering here.... I wonder how often writers do graduate through the grammatical people as regards the pov's they write in as they age. As you mention, starting off in 1st person because who does one know better than oneself, and as we feel like we finally grok others, reaching out into the different flavors of 3rd person, and then when we hit those years where we realize that in some ways we were dumber in our 20's than we were before we hit puberty returning to 1st person for some introspection and reassessment, and then branching out again... Maybe I'm just over-caffeinated right now. :coffee::-D
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    When I first started studying writing in earnest back in the early 1990s, the opinion was just the opposite, that beginners should avoid 1st person until they had a couple of stories under their belts.

    But whether this theory holds water—one way or the other—seems questionable to me. I'm quite happily writing in 1st and I've yet to be traditionally published (which is my own personal yardstick for stepping beyond being a beginner).

    As for it being confined to YA, that's not true, either. Stephen King's 11.22.63 is 1st person as are many, many other novels that in no way could be considered YA... or even close.

    Humour is well-suited to 1st person (the alternative is 3rd omniscient) and I guess if we can go by other novels I've read, so are horror, science fiction, crime and detective fiction... you name it.

    So if you wanna write 1st person fiction, I don't see any convention stopping you.
     
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  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you were closer before, saying we write what we're accustomed to from our reading. I generally write in close third, but when I decided to write YA I read a lot of it and when I started writing I used first without even thinking about it. I'd absorbed that convention and was prepared to use it!
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Did you notice present tense as a trend in YA? I see a lot of that.
     
  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, absolutely.

    I think YA readers in general are more open to non-traditional narratives. It's like they haven't read enough yet to really get their preferences/prejudices/expectations in place. So I think YA has more first person, more present tense, more experimenting in general that we'd see anywhere else but in literary fiction. I think.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. A lot of the risk taking in terms of style, and even story elements, seems to be in the YA space.
     
  14. MartinWellow
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    If it makes you feel any better, I was looking for good third person writing examples last night and the first five books I pulled from my bookshelf were all 1st person. It annoyed me at the time, but it might make you feel better. :)
    ps. They were all "real" adult novels.
     
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  15. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my opinion, first person works best (Lolita, Pale Fire, Heart of Darkness), when the narrator is meant to be a natural story teller, and the voice of the author and that of the character are able to sort of merge. That's magical.

    I think there are many characters out there, the everymans of the world, whose thoughts, actions, and words are best described by a third party (ie 3rd person POV).

    I would argue, that if the character/writer lacks the right kind of voice, writing in first person will create prose that feels juvenile and YAish.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, isn't Swann's Way in first person? Certainly not juvenile or YA material....
     
  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haven't read it yet.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm 99.9999% certain it is. Have to check my copy when I get home.
     
  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No it definitely is first person.
     
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  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like I said. I think the first person narrator and the author need to be able to merge, and that merged narrator also needs to be convincing that he/she would be telling the story.

    Look at it this way. If you think of all the people you know, you could probably only imagine a certain number of them throwing an extravagant birthday party for themselves and inviting every single person they know. It's the same way with telling a story. I can only imagine a few certain types of characters describing their story to an audience.
     
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  21. CrusherBrooks
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    Interesting how many people think 1st person is more intuitive... I actually started writing in 1st person present tense as a challenge to myself, because 3rd person felt so much more natural and practically everything I read was in 3rd person (past). After getting used to it, it's hard to switch back I must say. 3rd person felt more natural for me, since I'm the creator and therefore essentially omniscient. It felt odd and challenging to be limited to the point of view of a single character, even when this character's point of view is the entire essence of the operation.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You're not limited. There are books with multiple first person viewpoint characters. And others with multiple viewpoint characters where one character is written in first person, and others characters written in third person. I can even think of one where there are multiple viewpoint characters, one of which is written in second person.
     
  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always get confused by this. 3rd person can also be limited.
     
  24. MartinWellow
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    Doesn't Christine (Stephen King) switch back and forth between 1st and 3rd?
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    And neither has to be limited. One of the things I hate most when reading advice on what POV to pick is when someone advises that a limitation of first-person POV is that you can only depict events known to the MC. Like the idea that you can't change viewpoint characters in a first person narrative is an assumption they've never challenged.
     
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