1. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    First Person Discussion

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cybrxkhan, Jun 20, 2009.

    There's the flashback thread that's kind of veering off-topic by starting to discuss whether first person is advisable for writers or not.

    Personally, I prefer writing in first person, but, knowing all too well that first person may have its own pitfalls, especially for beginning writers, I'd thought it's better if we discuss first person here, as opposed to in the flashback thread?

    I'd just like to know your guys opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of first person as opposed to third person.
     
  2. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I prefer writing in third person, with the voice inside the mc's head. If that makes sense. I tried doing my novel in first person for awhile, I HATED how it sounded. I don't hate first person, I just think that for my novel, it doesn't work as well as third. I tell the story as if the narrator is the MC's guardian angel, who can read all his thoughts and empathize with his feelings, yet still has a perspective on him that is far enough outside of himself to separate from ego when necessary. If that makes sense.
     
  3. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Look--if you don't ever practice first person, how will you ever improve first person?

    All the master writers began somewhere. Even Poe wrote horribly, before he began to learn the ropes and became a master first person writer. Same with King. You want to get better in first person, then start writing in first person, and cut all the filler and adipose.
     
  4. SingToMeMuse
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    SingToMeMuse Member

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    I'm not sure why it drives me SO nuts but I hate reading books in first person, so much so that I will almost avoid a book in first person even if it sounds really good. (I have been swayed away from that extreme a few times though, but that annoyance was still there) I think I just get more from a third person story, it's not so narrowed to just one character. Then if you snap to another character in first person I just get bogged down with too many heads, it just feels lazy or just doesn't flow as well I guess is what I'm trying to say. Ick, I hate it!
    I will never write a book of mine in F.P. simply because of my own annoyance of it. Though it does seem like it would be easier to write but not as enjoyable to read.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with 1st person. I did hear somewhere that newer writers tend to write in 1st person. I can't exactly confirm this, but I don't doubt it either.

    An advantage of writing in first person is that its easier to put down the character's thoughts. In third person, its harder to introduce a character's thought without losing the flow and/or pacing.

    I'm not sure if this an advantage or disadvantage, but a first person POV gives a limited and biased view of the world. In third person, the writer is free to look at other characters' perspectives.

    Ultimately, it's your choice about what POV to use. Like EyezForYou said, with practice you can improve your writing in first person.
     
  6. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Third person can be "just one character" as well. There are no scenes in my book that the MC wasn't a part of or didn't experience. I think it's so much more complicated than just "first" or "third". The point of view can be anywhere.
     
  7. Maroon
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    Maroon Active Member

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    It infuriates me when people say it's 'wrong' or 'inappropriate' to use the first person.

    The point of view from which a story is told is, of course, integral to the story. So whilst I'll agree that some novels clearly benefit from a third person's POV, others cry out for a first person perspective. There is no right or wrong - the only choice concerns which perspective will add depth to the story.

    Regardless, the point of view you select won't make or break your novel; point of view is only the 'what' of the matter. It's the 'why' and 'how' that count.

    And if it turns out that your novel is boring, unoriginal, drab and uninteresting, could you really say: "Oh, must have been the first person POV that screwed it." ? Nah. A novel is so much more.

    M.
     
  8. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    There is no right or wrong - the only choice concerns which perspective will add depth to the story.

    AMEN
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    First person takes more planning so that all of the information that the reader learns is enough to tell the story. It is often easier with a familiar setting so that 'every day' objects and events in the POV character's life don't have to be explained to the reader.

    Another common way is for the POV character to be in some way inexperienced, so that the reader learns along with the 1st person POV character.

    My fantasy novel Flank Hawk is written in first person POV. When the story begins the POV character is a farmhand trained in the local lord's militia, standing to his first battles under the wing of his old cousin. For me it was a good place to start.

    The POV character has some knowledge of the 'world' and events, but it is localized or gathered from stories he'd heard growing up, or from folks passing through his small town.

    It really depends on the story you have to tell. Both of my novels I've written are in first person POV. But, for example, of the 8 short stories I've sold/had published or have been accepted for publication, only 3 were written in first person POV and the rest in third person limited.

    If you're best at first person, go ahead and develop that, then branch out if you choose. The main thing is to write and polish and finish projects, and submit them (if that's your goal).

    I will say that on occasion you'll find markets/editors that prefer not to see submissions written in first person POV.

    Terry
     
  10. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    To some extent I agree with you.

    If it's told in first person, I find that characters come across as too self-pitying; too whiny, etc. Or it leaps to the other end of the spectrum and the character becomes too arrogant and self-loving. I think it's about finding a balance, but the majority of novels I've read written in first-person never seem to find this balance. But of course there are exceptions: such as "The Catcher in the Rye". I can't imagine it having the same affect if it were to be told in third person.

    I used to find that if a novel was told in first person then I'd put it down immediately. But after reading several diaries, I've come to realise that some novels just need to be told in the first person to get the story across just right. But it's more about finding the right voice for the character, and keeping it consistent. Although first person is popular with "first time writers", I find that it's much more difficult to perfect than third person, as you need to be more finely in-tune with their thoughts and understand how they would express them. That, and it's a struggle to find that balance between realistic human response and over-the-top emotionalism.

    I prefer to write in either second or third person. The former only for short stories; the latter for fiction of any length. This is based on reading experience, as I've found that I'm more likely to sympathise with a character if it's written in third person. First person often comes across too desperate for me to really understand - and I'm more likely to roll my eyes at the drama than to really engage with it. But I understand how many people would get more from reading something that sounds more like a more personal encounter, rather than an outsider telling the story.

    Like starseed, when I write in third person I stick to one character. The freedom of third person is great, in that if you choose you can jump from one character to another. But I think it's more effective to focus on one, and personally find it aggravating when a character I've just spent half a book with isn't present in a scene or chapter. It's understandable that a writer may want the narrator to be omniscient, and to dictate everything that's going on. But I find it so much more realistic if I only know as much as the main character knows. So chapters that end with phrases such as, "But what he/she didn't know was that...", really get on my nerves. In my opinion, learning at the same time as the character is important. Which is easier to pull off in first person - but is so much more rewarding in third.
     
  11. ManhattanMss
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    I find the first person narrator to be more distant than third, because the narrator is claiming the story as his own ("this isn't YOUR story; it's mine"); and therefore, as a reader, I cannot automatically step into the narrator's shoes. So, I have to rely on him to present me with HIS story and to persuade me that it's interesting enough to spend time with. The writer must persuade me that the first person narrator's insights are plausible (and, if not handled well, that can flop). Third person allows me as a reader to imagine myself in the shoes of the character (the writer's allowing the reader--probably through a third person close narrator--to imagine that he could be there in place of the MC whose views and experience are reflected in the narration). Of course, that can flop, too, if it's not handled well.

    I think Sena Jeter Naslund's AHAB'S WIFE is an exceptionally good first person story that's imaginative, interesting, exciting, unusual, and very well written. But I'm always aware that it's THE NARRATOR'S story, not mine, as a reader. It's more realistic than, say, Murakami's first person, dream-like stories, in which I think he does an amazing job of persuading me to accept the various impossibilities the first person narrator experiences (that's not easy to do, I think). Where Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, which is third-person, is something that I think invited my own imagination to mix with that of the writer, as I step into the shoes of his third-person character(s) and experience with them the awfulness of their plight.

    Generally, I think the 1st or 3rd POV of the narrator disappears into the background of a well-written story or novel. It isn't the first thing I think about, really. In fact, I don't much notice it at all, unless the writing is really not very good--that's where it starts to stand out as a culprit (especially so in first person "fictional" stories that arise out of real experiences of the author--which is probably why novice writers have such trouble with it).

    I kind of think the story itself will dictate the best choice, really. But, as a writer, I like to experiment with narrator POV (choosing a POV and THEN writing a story--to see what kind of story emerges), which helps me understand why that's so.
     
  12. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Anyhow, it seems to me that perhaps a reason that publishers and agents are wary of first person written by beginner writers is that it is very easy to turn the narrator into something annoying, like some angsting teenager whining about nothing. The Catcher in The Rye is what I consider one of the best examples of first person, but had it been written by a lesser author, I guess it would have really just sounded like a bunch of whining and angst.

    But I suppose this thing could even be a problem in third person that's limited to the MC POV, because if the reader can still hear all the MC's thoughts, and if all those thoughts sound like your average angst-ridden teenager...
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Anything you can write in first person can be written in third person. The reverse is not true.

    First person may seem easier, but it is in fact harder to write well. Also, so much amateur first person writing is so godawful that, as Terry mentions, many publishers and editors will be biased against it. That's not a good way to make a good first impression from the slush pile.

    After you sell some of your writing, you will have more leeway to be a rebel. Taking the safer route does NOT make you a poorer writer. But if you can't write well enough to get accepted following the safest guidelines, what makes you think you will write well enough to overcome the biases of the busy editors and publishers who only have minutes per manuscript to thin down the slush pile?

    First person is a locked perspective. You are working within much tighter constraints than with any of the third person variants. The techniques you need to reach outside the first person shell also apply to third person, so if you can't work with third person, you really won't work well with first person's limitations.
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Do a search for "best novels written" and you might be surprised about how many of them are written in first person.

    I was searching through all of the recent Edgar winners, and they were all written in first person. But each one of them play to the strengths of first person.
     
  15. Maroon
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    Maroon Active Member

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    To add something further:

    When it comes to getting published, there is much to be said for 'playing the game'. This might include writing your novel in the third person since, as we are so often told, many audiences and agents dislike the first person POV.

    But - and my word, it's a big but - part of being a good writer is learning when to listen to your instincts. (Also, when not to, but that's a different story!) If your guts tell you it needs to be first person, then run with that.

    Once you're finished you may choose to revisit some of your decisions; you may even change them if you feel it will make the book/short story/whatever more marketable. But, my goodness - do it at the end, not at the beginning! If you start out trying to follow a formula from the get-go, you'll have to second guess every chapter. It's utterly paralyzing.

    X + Y does not necessarily = mass market success. Although I take the point that, in some cases, it might help.

    Some people might disagree with this, but it's my opinion, and offered in earnest.

    Mx
     
  16. Purple Ink
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    Purple Ink New Member

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    I perfer to write in first person, only because it's easier and I'm pretty good at it. I've tried writing in third person, but it doesn't seem to work as well as when I write in first person.
     
  17. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I prefer to write in third person. There are many things in my book that the reader would not be familiar with, but my character would be, so if I write from my character's point of view then it would become confusing. I'd have to describe what things are used for through his actions rather than description, which would mean a lot of pointless things would have to happen so that the more important parts of the story make sense.
     
  18. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find it really easy to write in first person, and it works for the kinds of stories I tell (self-discovery/redemption), but I always end up sounding like a whiny, angsty teen...like me. :p

    I'm working on my first serious novel (hope to have much of it written by end of summer), and for the first time I'm writing in 3rd person (3rd-person subjective). I have to say that it's sort of liberating. I can cover the actions and thoughts of my 2 main characters, but I can still give the story an intimate feel by the things that I focus on.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you write in first person, you will have to work harder to avoid excessive telling where showing would work better.

    I immediately suspect the writing of anyone who claims that writing first person is easier than writing third person. It's a much more restrictive perspective, and it is easy to fall into bad writing habits.

    But everyone is different. If you do find first person easier, and do avoid the novice traps of that perspective, more power to you!
     
  20. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing though... Most YA realistic fiction/self-actualization stories are written in first-person narrative. So if that's the kind of stories you read, then it's also the narrative voice in which you feel comfortable writing. It feels natural and it also works well with the genre.
     

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