1. zethren
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    zethren New Member

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    Tips for 1st person writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by zethren, Apr 10, 2009.

    Hello all :)

    I just have a quick question to ask you guys. I have some experience writing, as I'm nearing 55,000 words on my first Fiction novel written in 3rd person.

    I also have a very small amount of experience writing in the first person, but only for short stories or a chapter or two. Basically, I've never written a full length piece in the 1st person.

    So, I was wondering if any of you more experienced writers out there had any basic tips for someone who was interested in tackling a full length 1st person novel?

    I was also thinking about breaking up the novel in both the 1st person and 3rd person (mixing the two when appropriate). Is this a good idea? Bad idea?

    Thanks for any and all help!
     
  2. Miswrite
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    Miswrite Member

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    I'm by no means experienced, but I know that if you write first person, you have to be wary when it comes to two main things:
    1. Forcing emotions onto the reader
    2. Using too many "I said, I did"s

    The first is more difficult to manage - basically, if your writing doesn't create a happy atmosphere, but your MC goes on and on about how overjoyed they are, that's forcing emotions onto the reader, and that makes the reader angry. And you won't like him when he's angry.

    The second is just hard to avoid. All sentences seem to fall into the pattern of "I _____, _____ing to _____ _____ _____" or, even worse, just "I _____. I _____ _____ _____. I _____ _____." It takes practice and time to stop writing like this, and even some published writers stil haven't developed that skill ;)

    As for breaking up your novel's writing, that doesn't sound too good to me. There are people who like that sort of thing, but I think it'll cause the reader to get dizzy from all the changes in focus the novel goes through.
     
  3. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I'm writing something in first person right now. Of course, since it's the first thing I've done from this perspective, I'm not exactly an expert, but I think my approach is reasonable.

    First off, I study the way I think in the real world. Note that I said "think," not "speak." I usually don't speak what I mean all that eloquently, as characters in third person stories often do. Instead, most of what goes on in my head, stays in my head. I'd be willing to bet that most people are like that. That would translate over to most of the character's thoughts never seeing the use of a quotation mark.

    This is the kind of thing you can do in first person that would be maybe not quite so good in third person. You can focus more on internal thoughts and personal feelings because the narrator is also the character in question. It's also an excuse to use less formal wording outside of dialogue, more like what you yourself might use while thinking. And thirdly, a first person story should never go into what other characters are thinking unless a) the narrator is telepathic, or b) it's obvious what the other character is thinking about just by looking at his/her face.

    In my opinion, whereas third person writing should be about getting the point across as clearly as possible, first person writing should be much more concerned with the thoughts and feelings of the narrator character. Otherwise, what's the point of writing in first person rather than third? You'd just be replacing "he/she" with "I/me", which really doesn't change the experience much.

    Sorry if I rambled. I'm just hoping this makes sense to somebody but me. :p
     
  4. grnidone
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    grnidone Member

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    I think this is a good question.

    What is the general rule for using third person vs first person?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I would recommend staying away from first person. There are very few advantages to first person over third. Te priincipal advantage is also a disadvantage - it compels you to stay locked in the viewpoint and knowledge of the POV character.

    That is what makes it attractive to mystery writers. If ewverything is told from te POV of the investigator, his or her current viewpoint is accepted as being based on the discoveries and speculation at that point in time, whereas in third person false impressions aren;t accepted quite as readily by te reader, and the changes in the MC;s understanding of the events feel slightly more like outside manipulation.

    But first person IS harder to manage, and what I said in the previous paragraph is a very subtle difference. Unless you are a master of the more difficult first person perspective, you probably will not realize thos benefits significantly.

    Switching between a first and third person narration is really not a good idea. They have enough differences in mood to make that an unsettling transition. Switching between two fist person perspectives is a little better, but again, it is a master technique. You need to be very good at narrating with a character voice, and making the two voices distinct without becomong cartoonish.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    only the very best of seasoned writers can pull off writing in all-first, or a combo of first and third successfully... i wouldn't recommend a beginner try it...
     
  7. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Personally, I can only write in first person. It *is* more difficult to master than 3rd person but all of the pieces I write in third person always come out bland and lacking emotion.

    If you're going to write in first person, then the whole novel should be written in first person. Do *not* break it up into sections where it switches from third to first person (it becomes very difficult to read and unless you're a master of both 1st and 3rd person narration, it is incredibly hard to pull off).

    Someone above me made a good point--when writing in first person, you have to make sure you're not forcing the reader into feeling something. Using "I said angrily" is guiding whereas something like: ("Sure." I glanced down at my watch. Half past ten. I needed to get going.)

    You can make the emotions noticeable without using emotionally driven words. Hopefully out of the small phrase I provided, you felt the anxiety she was feeling as soon as she glanced at her watch. It's not the strongest example, but it was the first thing that popped into my head.

    ~Lynn

    Oh, and a tip--if you have problems writing in 1st person, write it all in 3rd then go back and change it all to a first person p.o.v. (and vice versa for those who write badly in 3rd).
     
  8. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    but if they were going to anyway, what would you suggest?
     
  9. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I know this wasn't actually directed at me, but I'm going to put in my two cents worth anyway.

    I'd suggest (if doing an all-first person) that they write it in third person entirely and then go back and change it to first person p.o.v.

    I would never suggest that anyone try to switch from first to third because a) it can be very confusing and b) it is incredibly difficult to do well.

    ~Lynn
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you absolutely MUST write in first person despite all advice, then study the writing of those who do so successfully. Two authors I personally feel handle it well are mystery authors Sue Grafton and Linda Barnes.

    But really - master third person first. If you cannot handle third person adeptly, first person will suffer as well. The thord person techniques are also needed in first person, especially if you want to avoid the dreaded "I ... I ... I ..." problem. First person narrative uses third person syntax nearly as much as a third person POV does - it hust does it from a firmly anchored POV, and that too is an essential skill for third person narrative, The only difference is that in third person, the anchor can get passed around at appropriate transition points.

    What's Your Point (of View)?
     
  11. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I agree with Cogito's points. However, I'd have to argue that some people just naturally suck at 3rd person writing >< I know I do :p

    ~Lynn
     
  12. chandler245
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    chandler245 Banned

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    I don't know how to write anyother way. So writing in first person is a making of a bad book? I can't write in third person, or anyother way. I find that life flows as a first person, wouldn't it be nautral to write that way?:)
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Didn't I just address that very point?
     
  14. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Lol at the back and forth :)

    Basically...1st person=hardest to write of the p.o.v.s (unless you count 2nd...which most don't).

    First person narration doesn't make a bad book...it's the way a lot of new writers *use* first person narration that makes the book bad.

    Just thought I'd put my thoughts in on that one.

    ~Lynn
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Jn my opinion, second person POV is an absolutely atrocity for fiction. Never, ever, use second person narration. It tre4ats the reader as a ventriloquist's dummy, and you KNOW where the ventriloquist's hand goes!

    I have seen second person POV used in "choose your own adventure" books. Thankfully, video games have all but eliminated that ill-conceived fad,
     
  16. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    :)

    I have written a couple things in 2nd person...they're interesting to look back over, in any case. Of course it's normally a "first person" directed to a "2nd person" so it's still technically first person (I think).

    Anyway..I agree..2nd person=atrocious.
     
  17. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    In my eyes, doing so would be pointless beyond belief. First and third person perspectives are (or should be) completely different in terms of writing style. To write it in one perspective and then change it to the other would be to rework the whole thing... not from scratch, but close enough to make it seem that way. Besides, if all you're changing is the pronouns, then how would it be any more difficult to write in one perspective or the other?

    If you just use "I" instead of "he/she" while keeping a third person narrative style, then the reader won't feel drawn into the character on a personal level, which defeats the purpose of writing in first person.
     
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  18. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    And where would that be? It's the back for my preschoolers! :p
     
  19. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    This is more of a suggestion for those just starting to use and understand first person p.o.v.... not something you should rely on.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Indeed. If you write the initial draft in third person without a well anchored POV, the conversion to first person will not go well.

    The approaches for first person and third person are distinctly differentm itherwise it really wouldn't make much difference which you use.
     
  21. inkslinger
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    inkslinger Contributing Member

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    I agree that first person can be more challenging.... to an extent. I say extent because I personally find first person POV great for short stories. I love writing short stories first person POV. I find it easier, because it simply helps me delve into the mind of my main character quickly and simply.

    For lengthy stories, I do agree it's a lot more challenging. I usually end up getting bored with just one character point of view. If you're going with third, you can usually be a lot more unbiased in the actual character situations and scenes.
     
  22. Gilgamesh
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    Gilgamesh Member

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    It may be that you just don't personally like second person narratives, but that doesn't mean other writers should 'never, ever' give it a try. I personally don't think it treats the reader like a puppet anymore than a first or third person story does. The reader is always going to be dragged along a railway, unable to change the direction of the story. The fact that the character in question is 'you' doesn't necessarily mean you have to feel like choices and/or personality are being imposed on you personally. To be insulted or put off by it is missing the point. You just have to suspend your disbelief, as you do with any story, and enjoy where the story is taking you.

    If you want to see the second-person perspective done well, read If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, by Italo Calvino. He was a brilliant writer, and I think if he can pull off the second person perspective in a fun, intellectually stimulating way then I for one would like to give that perspective a try in some of my own writing too. And I would never discourage other writers from avoiding it just because it's mostly found in choose your own adventure books and early text games. It has so much more potential than that, which is a good reason why aspiring writers SHOULD give it a go. Too many writers dismiss it the way you have, which is a shame.

    Jim
     
  23. Ice
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    I find that on an emotional level, a good first-person narrative engages me far more than third. As an example, I'm currently reading Barry Eisler's John Rain series and deeply feel for the protagonist as he struggles to find his way through life. I don't think the first person is inferior to the third.
     
  24. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    First person tidbits that I, personally, like:

    1. Don't begin too many consecutive sentences with 'I,' however; don't be afraid to begin sentences with this personal pronoun, otherwise you will back yourself into a corner pointlessly.

    2. Too much introspection is lame. What I mean by this is that as much as people think in real life, a WHOLE lot of that thinking is very, very passive thoughts, most of which are emotion not put into word.
    For example, if you are about to get hit by a car, EMOTIONS will run through your mind more than actual words. Consider that. Don't have him think about EVERYTHING, ALL of the time, with complex thought-processes. It's unrealistic and boring.

    3. Don't be afraid to but at least semi-omniscient. Style plays a major part in this. Some first person authors use a narrative that is retrospective in nature to describe what other characters are thinking.
    For example: I didn't know it, and I wish I had, but Susan was thinking that exact same thought.
    There are other ways. Maybe you can Google it or something. Developing your own style is vital in first-person.

    4. Consider the time period. A first-person voice should be, basically, EXACTLY the same as your character's quotations, unless you are writing it as an older, wiser character, but even then; speech patterns don't usually change too much from the time a person is twenty.
    You don't want to write in a very strict, formal manner, and then have your character speak with relaxed, informal English.


    That's all I can think of. Let everyone else help.
     
  25. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I use that as a suggestion because once you have it all in 3rd and go back and try to put it all in first, it makes you really dig deep so that you fix the narration to 'fit' into the first-person style. That's just my opinion though. I think it's also a good way to see *how* the two differ because it forces you to reword things to make sense in that style of narration.

    I hope this post made sense...

    ~Lynn
     

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