1. GraceCousins
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    GraceCousins Member

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    First Person: Only for Amateurs?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by GraceCousins, Jun 5, 2011.

    I had a creative writing course professor tell us once that only amateur, inexperienced writers use first person. He said that is was the easiest to write and the worst to read because only experienced authors can pull it off successfully, with the general attitude being that only "bad" writers use first person because they don't have the skill to do anything else.

    By that time, I was two years into my novella, written in first person. I have read some wonderful books written in first person that are very well done and very pleasant to read, so I don't agree with what he said at all. In fact, it made me doubt everything he said for the rest of the course. It made me angry, actually, but is he right? Is writing in first person the “easy way out”? Do you need to be a great writer in order to write first person well?
     
  2. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    Your professor was a fool. There's nothing at all wrong with writing in first person. It's not the "easy way out" and in fact comes with it's own set of challenges.
     
  3. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's an over-generalisation.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    How would he know that only experienced authors can pull it off successfully, if only amateur writers use it? Surely, then, no experienced author in the history of the world has ever used first person, right?

    I've read plenty of good first person books. Your professor should get a grip. Oh, I'm sure that there are special challenges that you should learn about and master, but that's a far cry from just dismissing first person works out of hand.

    ChickenFreak
     
  5. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    "Elitist"

    Your proffessor made a terrible arguement. He says 1st Person PoV is the weakest form of writing, but can be done exceptionally well with skill, but people do not have the skill to do it.

    I'd say the same about 3rd Person PoV and to that extent 2nd Person PoV.

    Everything has it's challenge, the real thing that it comes down to is how well you do at each. 1st Person PoV is what most gravitate towards as it is what most identify with. In Fantasy I'd state that 3rd Person PoV might be more common as it's easier to give details to the world around! So in this respect 1st Person PoV is harder to do, but it doesn't mean 3rd Person PoV is terrible "EZMODE" in Fantasy.

    He sounds like an asbolute tool who is talking out his rear in order to sound, and purely just sound, as if he knows much more than everyone around him. My guess is, he's one of those people who follows the "Those Who Cannot Do Teach" Down to the damn letter.

    1. He'll probably quote Mark Twain without every having read a single book by him, but call him one of the greatest litterary minds of his time.

    2. Make the class read some PoS Book that you've never heard of due to the artistic nature that the author was able to do so well.

    3. He'll inform the class that he's working on his own novel.

    IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE!

    ------------- Some Points Posted May Not Be Factual

    ------------- In writing, perspective is key.

    ------------- Don't let useless people bring you down. I'm a soft person, but people with that "elitist" mentality burn me up to my core as a human being!

    ------------- Lots of Typos! I wrote this infuriated!!!!
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's some beautiful self-contradictions in there, bordering something paradoxial. If this is actually what he said, I'd demand to see his diploma before listening to him any further.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Professors are human, and therefore imperfect and subject to error. Do not get angry. Use your common sense. If memory serves, Huckleberry Finn was written in the first person. So was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Camus' The Stranger was written in first person. Herman Wouk's Inside, Outside was written in first person. So, there's gobs of evidence out there of quality fiction having been written in first person.

    As noted above, it can be a difficult mode in which to write because you are limited to one point of view. It can also be more difficult to convey to the reader a sense of authenticity since it is an inherently less objective viewpoint (someone writing about themselves is apt to be less objective than a third party), but that certainly is not always the case.

    You don't have to be a great writer to write in the first person. But doing it well could someday make you into a great writer.

    Bottom line: write what you know works for you, and ignore pedants who only talk in broad generalizations. Don't bother arguing with him. On exams, give him the answers he wants. Then do it your way.
     
  8. darkhaloangel
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    darkhaloangel Active Member

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    Usually I find lectures are better if you think of their statements as questions, because they often just teach things they like. It's the priviledge of being a lecturer and not a teacher.

    The guy might have been an editor in the past, or just be really sick of students turning in shoddy first person narratives. He's only generalising from his experience of life - others have different experiences. And his generalisations are probably valid, but only for his experience.

    Plus it may just be a genre thing. A lot of first person books are comedy or romance and if he doesn't like those sort of novels (or thinks are novels must fit in these genres) then you can see why he might draw such a conclusion from.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Amateurs tend to be drawn to first person, because they can put themselves in the narrator's place and just tell the story that way.

    Howevber, first person is not easy to do well. It is a limited viewpoint, so you must be prepared to honor those constraints. Also, if you don't know what you are doing, you will be mired in a vast rippling wasteland of "I" and "me."

    There are experienced writers who know how to use first person to its fullest. Sue Grafton is one, and I recommend studying how she does it before attempting it yourself.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Doesn't sound like you had a very good professor, frankly.
     
  11. GraceCousins
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    GraceCousins Member

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    Thanks guys. I think I just wanted clairification and other people's views on this. When someone who is a professor and author and who you are encouraged to look up to says something like this, you start doubting youself.
     
  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    No offense to anyone, but it's probably best to get both sides of the story before everyone jumps on some professor they don't know, or, since that's not feasible, perhaps just not turning it into a personal bash-fest, and instead just focus on the content of the comments.

    It always bothers me and makes me dubious when someone (an amateur, at that) comes onto a forum basically talking smack about a person (a professional, at that) who isn't present or available to present what they may have actually said. Especially when the question could have just as easily been asked without the typical scenario of a writer presenting something a professional said, possibly in a way that is slightly skewed because as it turns out they have a personal project that conflicts with what was allegedly said.

    I guess I've just been on the other side enough, seeing students not actually listening to what I've said in lieu of being personally offended because my advice, or just as often their misunderstanding of that advice, ended up being contrary to their pet project. But, as I mentioned, the professional thing is to respond to the comments and the root of the question, not the personal circumstances involved.

    I doubt this. If anything, it was perhaps a bit of hyperbole to try to get more students to not write in first person, because the truth is inexperienced writers often do resort to first person.

    I have to agree that bad first-person is about the worst bad, inexperienced, amateur student writing I've ever read. It's extra bad.

    I don't agree that it's actually the easiest to write, though perhaps the easiest for writers to think is easy. Amateur writers chronically rely on first person, under the guise they are the narrator, so any sloppy writing is just a form of 'style' and anything goes. It's easy for an amateur writer to write first person and think they're doing great, when it's not.

    I agree that only experienced authors can pull it off, because, well, only experience authors can pull anything off, really.

    So, what's the problem exactly? You're asking a question that you've already answered, so what more is needed?

    Relax, I'm sure it wasn't personal (give me a dime for every student I've had to assure a lecture wasn't targeting them personally and I'd be rich).

    Doubting and questioning is good. If you simply dismissed everything else he said, though, you did yourself a disservice.

    No, but amateur writers perceive it to be, hence what probably started all this.

    Yes, of course. Writing 'well' is completely relative to the amount of talent and skill out there. Publishing is more competitive than ever, MFA programs are more competitive than ever (try over 3k applications for 12 slots), even getting agent interest is harder than ever. So yes, writing in first person 'well' requires a very experienced writer, and the manuscripts publishers, selection committees and agents are seeing may not have more bad first-person writing, but I can bet most people do consider it much worse than the bad third-person stuff they're seeing, because in my experience it is.
     
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  13. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I don't think first person is for amateurs. It comes with it's own difficulties like any other POV.
     
  14. GraceCousins
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    GraceCousins Member

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    "basically talking smack "?! I want to point out that I never said anything personal against the professor. I am not that kind of person. He was a very nice man, actually, but the fact that his opinion on first person was so strong and so one-sided seemed wrong. I thought it was important to point out that it was a professor for two reasons: 1.) so people wouldn't think it was something I believed, that I had something against it (I wanted to avoid having my throat ripped out, believe it or not), and 2.) that is was said to me by a reliable source, and not something I was just making up.

    I never took what he said personal because it conflicted with my own work. Ever. It simply made me doubt my own abilities, I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I doubted everything else he said because of how biased he seemed to be, but I did not dismiss it. In fact, I learned a lot from him, in other areas of writing. He seemed to think ALL first person writing was bad and dismissed it as a writing form entirely. Sure, I’m an amateur writer. Sure, most amateur writing I’ve read in first person isn’t the best, but this goes for 2nd and 3rd person as well. I wanted clairification on something my professor said, that was all.

    Good grief, I'm sorry I ever started this thread.
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Good grief, I'm sorry I ever responded pointing out how "everyone" seemed to be enjoying bashing someone they didn't even know instead of responding to the content of your post. Unless you made all the responses, I wouldn't consider you "everyone."

    I won't respond further on taking things personally, as my point wasn't to attack, but to simply point out how I'm sure his advice/opinion wasn't at all personal despite the urge for writers to internalize and personalize everything (and get angry because someone has a different, even ignorant opinion).
     
  16. McHamlet
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    McHamlet Member

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    Well, without wanting to interfere, I note the above exchange contains an obviously misleading failure of acknowledgment.
     
  17. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    exactly what I was thinking too! :D
     
  18. lost123
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    lost123 Senior Member

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    First person writing is easy to write and boring to read.







    "Everyone carries his own inch rule of taste, and amuse himself by applying it, triumphantly, wherever he travels."

    Henry Brooks Adams
     
  19. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Professors say a lot of strange things. lol Sometimes "Professionals" are just amateurs held in high esteem. (Not generalizing, I said SOMETIMES. :p )

    I don't really care for first person much but I am sure both amateurs and professionals use it a lot. (Heck, I know they do. lol) The professor seems to just be holding his own stereotypes in a little too high a regard.
     
  20. Sundae
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    Sundae Contributing Member

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    As a future professor, I sure hope that I don't get bashed so heavily for saying something ignorant, which I'm sure will occur from time to time. We're all human. The best professors are those that are constantly learning and paying attention to how the industry changes and how their earlier views may no longer be "the way it is." I wouldn't hold a statement like that against the professor as teaching is often times presented in a biased nature.

    Anyway, on topic. I actually disagree that first person is the easiest to write. However, I will agree that it is a style that is the easiest to experiment with and thus abuse. It took me a long time to be able to truly write first person on a level that was "good." Before that, I had many, many, many failed attempts. In my opinion, I think many people look at first person and think it's easy because you can easily write a lot in that perspective, whereas if you compare that same scene written in 3rd person, it takes much fewer words. But quantity does not equal quality and just because you can write a lot more doesn't mean it's any good. It's a style that you can so easily get lost in if you don't pay attention and there are so many traps that you can get in-tangled with.

    Also... there are many elements of writing that truly need to be polished in first person that in third person you may not necessarily need to polish. I think the "flow" of your piece is really one of those things. Yes, it's important in really any perspective, but it's damn near crucial in first person. Character development can become a trap in first person too. How many times have you read a perspective written in first person and they come off as whiny and annoying instead of engaging and full of personality? There are so many traps with first person, but if done properly, I think it's one of the best story telling tools available to an author.

    See, it's only boring if it's not done correctly. Plus this holds true for all perspectives, not just first person.
     
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  21. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    I agree with what was said above. We need to know the context of the conversation. What where you talking about when you professor said this?

    I know there are a lot of rookie mistakes made when writing in first person. (Because I made many my self.) This does not mean that there are not equally the same amount of mistakes made in 3rd person by rookie writers. Making the choice to write in first person in of its self, is not a mistake. It what you do when writing this way that may be a mistake.
     
  22. GraceCousins
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    GraceCousins Member

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    I refuse to get into this. I refuse to argue and nag and call down all manner of evil on everyone else. I' m not someone who thrives on conflict, I didn't start this thread so half of you could bash my professor and the other half could bash me and those bashing my professor. This might be the age of the internet where you can say anything you want without consequences, but I’m not going to be a part of it. It was a simple question, about writing, not about my professor, and it’s been blown completely out of proportion. I joined this forum because it looked like a place for civil, meaningful discussion about writing. I guess I have been proven wrong. I’m rather disappointed. I will not be coming back to this forum.
     
  23. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A question for the professor:

    Does he choose to not write in 1st person POV because he'd be marked as an amatuer
    or
    Because he isn't good enough to pull it off
    or
    Both? :)
     
  24. Kio
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    Kio Contributing Member

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    As some mentioned, I won't be too quick to bash this professor and call him names because he allegedly said something I disagree with. Even then, I don't really disagree because, yes, it's hard to write well in first person. First-person is easy in one sense because you can put yourself as the character and that doesn't take very much thought; you know how you would react to certain things and you know how you interact with others. On the other hand, it's hard to write in first-person well because you have to put yourself in the body of another entirely in order for the character to seem authentic and different from you, the writer, all the while using "I" and "me".

    I've noticed that a lot of amateur writers tend to base the MC off of themselves. The appearance is the same, the personality is the same, and the beliefs are the same. I'm not trying to turn this into another Twilight-bashing conversation, but it's a lot like what Stephanie Meyer did with Bella. Bella is pretty much Meyer's fictional carbon copy. Howeve, Meyer was clever about this and, rather than give Bella a well-constructed personality, she made her passive and clumsy so that anyone reading could put themselves in Bella's place. When you use "I" it's much easier to make a character because that character is actually you, only with a different name and, perhaps, a different setting.
     
  25. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I'm sorry you feel the forums aren't a meaningful place to discuss writing. Your hasty, seemingly emotionally-driven response and retreat from the forums is a bit confusing. I'm not sure exactly what you were looking for that you didn't find, though one response and/or one thread doesn't seem a solid impetus to make assertions against an entire forum/site, declaring your disappointment and intention to never come back.

    I'm all for people taking a stand... I just have no clue what or why you are.

    Though, everything seemed fine and having your support until I pointed out how unprofessional people were being, and how the thread was turning into a bash-fest of a professional in the industry, which deserved or not was avoiding (ironically?) actually meaningfully discussing the craft question at hand.

    I guess I'm sorry, I should know better than to not just ignore posts and responses like these and only poke my nose into threads with meaningful discussion on writing (which are the majority, despite recent impressions).
     

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