1. Baller Dale
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    Baller Dale Member

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    Things to do and not do when writing in first person

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Baller Dale, Aug 6, 2012.

    I'm about to write a short story in first person for the first time and was wondering if you could give me some tips - what to do and what not to do?

    For instance, is it important I stay away from using "I"?

    Thanks :)
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    there's no real way to avoid using "I" in a first person. You've just got to remember you cannot show any other character's thoughts. It has to through their words and the action seen through the eyes of the character.
     
  3. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    This looks like fun.

    Well, when writing in first person, remember to not overdo descriptions. Most people don't notice details of places around them unless they really like the place, it's very new, or the person in question is a scientist/sociologist studying a new culture. A good example of this is the character Ransom in Out of the Silent Planet -- a story where a philologist professor is kidnapped and forced to go to Mars.

    So basically, be aware of how your character would treat his surroundings.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Remember not to relate things that the narrator could not have known about. 1st person is limited in that regard. OTOH, you should let the reader know some of what the narrator is thinking and feeling. Also, don't be afraid to have your 1st person narrarator reveal that (s)he later found out (s)he was wrong about something.
     
  5. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    As a writer who's trying First Person for the first time, here are some tips:

    - Avoid: I felt, I saw, I heard. With small rewrites, they can be avoided.

    - Keep the character's voice consistent and use language that suits their character/age/personality

    - I agree with the description thing: Only describe things in detail if the character is new it or the person. Think of it like this: You're not going to take notice of something you see everyday.

    - Don't always show the character's personality through their thoughts, show it through their actions too.

    - Avoid a full paragraph of the narrator describing their appearance. Slip in description like this discreetly.

    - Don't make them ramble on that much. Every though process should say something about the character or move on the story

    - Read some first person books!

    That's all the tips I can think of now. :D Hope that helped.
     
  6. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    Make sure your narration is in the main character's voice. If your main is a country bumkin, narrating with superfluous words is ridiculous. A country bumkin won't know superfluous words.
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using "I" a fair bit is unavoidable, but remember that you don't have to tie things to the narrator's senses. For example, rather than:

    I saw a bird fly through the window.
    I heard the doorbell ring.
    I reached out and touched the velvet pillow. It felt soft to my fingers.

    instead:

    A bird flew by the window.
    The doorbell rang.
    The velvet pillow was soft and warm from the sun.
     
  8. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    I haven't written first person, but I've beta'd one, and the biggest issue in that story, was keeping the tense clear.

    Decide up front whether your character is relating a story that has already happened (so it's past tense), or whether the character is going through it currently (present tense). It seems more difficult to keep these clear in first person than third person.
     
  9. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Give your character a distinct voice and stick to it. That helps develop a consistent reader/character relationship. Also, take into account what your character's emotional state is. If something really really terrible just happened, it doesn't make sense for them to still be completely calm in their narration. I like first person alot, just because of the massive amount of emotion you can convey with it.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write outward, not inward. Yes, in first person you will occasionally theorize, speculate, and ruminate, but keep it occasional. Most of your narration should read like a third person account of what is visible/audible/tangible etc to that character. But leave out direct reference to the sense!

    For example, instead of:

    Use:

    Whatever you do, don't mope about in the character's head, even if he or she is an angsty teen.
     
  11. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I don't think that describing familiar surroundings is necessarily a bad thing as long as you describe them in a way that gives off the feeling of familiarity. Of example, don't say:

    "I walked into the kitchen. The walls were light blue, the appliances were all white and there was a window behind the sink."

    Instead...

    "I walked into the kitchen, with its light blue walls and white appliances."

    This is, of course, not a very well thought out example, but I think the idea is put across. So long as you're not making the description seem new to the character, the reader won't find it awkward. But just because the room is familiar to the character, doesn't mean it's familiar to the reader, and you shouldn't skip out too much on description for the sake of tone. Do you have to explain where every appliances is, or what's outside the window? No. But you should still give a vague idea as to where your character is.
     
  12. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    Of everything someone could notice when walking to the kitchen, it's the walls and white appliances lol xD

    I think it's helpful if you just say the kitchen. That's enough and the reader can know where the character is. The reader can imagine a kitchen for themselves, me thinks. But yeah, don't skip out too much on description. Describe relevant things here and there but no huge paragraphs of it (Unless your character is intrigued by it or it's new to them)
     
  13. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I just wouldn't describe my kitchen to someone when telling them a story about something I did that day. It seems fake to me.
     

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