1. AlexC
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    AlexC New Member

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    Writing in the first person

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by AlexC, Sep 10, 2014.

    Hi all,

    I am new to the forum and I am starting to plan my novel.
    What are people's views on writing one with a first person view?

    For example:

    I woke up with an overwhelming sense of dread. In my dreams I was safe and in control but in reality my life is spiralling out of control

    (made that example up in a minute)

    Thoughts?
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The guideline that I've always read is that first person is superficially easier than third person, but that it's harder to write first person well than to write third person well.

    Your example flips between past tense and present tense. Which did you mean?
     
  3. JC Axe
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    JC Axe New Member

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    I usually write in the first person. It's got it's benefits, you can really get into the head of your character, but it has it's downsides too; you can only describe what your character sees, feels and thinks. You cannot really talk about what another character is thinking, unless you want to write another passage from their perspective. Still, it feels normal for me, so I tend to prefer it.

    JC Axe
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's a perfectly fine POV to use. I think the reason it may seem harder than third person is because most pieces are written in third. But if you read enough works written in first person, you'll understand what to do and what not to do, and it's actually no harder than writing in third person.

    As far as your example goes, I don't see any problems with the tenses.
     
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  5. AlexC
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    AlexC New Member

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    Thanks for the replies guys.

    Do you have any books that would be helpful for me?
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Are there any particular genres you like to read?
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I find first person and third person both equally easy to write - first has always come naturally to me, and I think the poetic language I tend to use for third person actually fits perfectly well into first. Using first keeps me from over-describing, if anything, so it's a positive lol. Have 2 or more point of view characters frees you up a little re story-telling.

    For myself recently I've really taken to writing in the present tense. I've never done that before until my recent collab, and now I can't go back. Past tense seems so much... slower. lol.
     
  8. AlexC
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    AlexC New Member

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    I most like to read comedy and drama but I am open to anything.
     
  9. Jamboree
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    Jamboree New Member

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    The Hunger Games is the most well known first person book that comes to my mind straight away. The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid is a book that uses both present and past tense in first person and so may be a good book to compare first person in either tense. It may be a little tricky to find though. Probably have to look online for it.
    The Life of Pi is also first person.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    For comedy, I recommend Flann O'Brien. His novel The Poor Mouth is written in first person (it's also one of the funniest novels I've ever read). For other novels written in first person, try Lolita by Nabokov, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Stranger by Camus, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque. These are just a few examples out of many.
     
  11. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are stories that only work well in first person, some that cannot work well in first person, and some that would work well from any perspective.

    My all-time favorite novel is first person. Writing it from any other perspective would ruin it. Most of the short stories and novels that affect me deepest are written in first person. Most of them work best that way. That is not because writing "I" instead of "he" or "she" somehow makes the narrative more dramatic.

    The real reason is that there are (at least) two different ways to listen to a story. Either:

    The narrator is not a character. You pay attention to what the narrator talks about and you take for granted that it happens exactly as the narrator says. In that case, listening to the story is just a crude attempt to gather what you can gather of something that you unfortunately are not there to see for yourself.

    Or the narrator is a character. You pay attention to how the narrator talks. In that case, you see how the experience affects the narrator. You see this in what judgments the narrator makes, what the narrator focuses on, what the narrator omits, etc. You gain something out of listening to the story that you could not gain from seeing things for yourself.

    If you only care about what happens, then you want an honest, objective account of the events. Third person offers the narrator the most flexibility in delivering all the details you want. But if you care how a character is affected, then you might want to hear that character's own version of the story.
    1. Lolita. If nothing else, it is the current frontier of humans' capacity to express emotions (and to manipulate the listener) while telling stories of their own experiences. When you read it, you will see forms of expression that you never would have imagined were possible.

    2. The Catcher in the Rye. It is basically an exercise for the reader. The reader plays the role of a psychologist. The narrator plays the role of the patient. The reader psychoanalyzes the narrator, thereby practicing a range of skills. The most important of these skills is empathy.

    3. Sex Education. Many layers of perspective in a short story. The narrator quotes someone else who narrates her own experience at three different times in her life. Focus on how the perspective changes with each retelling.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another comment: First person past tense is a perfectly correct, normal, common choice for narrative. First person present tense is also perfectly correct but is much less common and, I'd argue, more difficult to achieve than third person past, first person past, or even third person present.
     
  13. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    It really depends on how intimate you want to become with your character. 1st person allows you to delve deeper into the character's mind as though you are becoming the character. Third person can allow you to get into the viewpoint of other characters, but not as deeply.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would argue that close third person lets you get just as close to your character as first person does. A third person narrator can still be right inside the character's head.
     
  15. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What do you mean "more difficult to achieve"? Achieve what?
     
  16. elynne
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    elynne Active Member

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    I tend to think of first person as autobiographical. I'm currently re-reading Shadow of the Torturer, the first volume of the Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe (AND IT'S FABULOUS OMG), which is written in first person by the main character. the fun part is that the MC states from the beginning that he has an eidetic memory, so he has a perfect reason to remember every detail of every conversation; on the other hand, he can only remember what he actually saw or experienced, and even then his perceptions of what happened may be very different from what actually happened, not to mention his bias as he's writing the story of what's important, how to describe things, and personal interpretations of events. this makes him simultaneously a reliable and an unreliable narrator.

    anyway, I originally mentioned that because unless your main character has an eidetic memory, or some other reason for everything to be remembered completely fresh (daily diary, recordings, or something), I've always been a bit put off by first-person narrators who pretend to remember every detail of every scene. The Jhereg series by Steven Brust is almost entirely told in first person by the main character, Vlad Taltos, but Vlad mentions several times during the series that he's an unreliable narrator, that he doesn't remember everything perfectly and some of it he's making up based on what he does remember, and even "I'm going to lie to you about this bit because I don't know/want you to know/understand what really happened."

    that being said, I'm currently writing a story that is narrated in first person by a character who hasn't explicitly stated they have eidetic memory (though they might; I'll have to think about that) or that they're an unreliable narrator, telling the story as best they remember. in fact, the main character hasn't given any context for why they're telling the story--whether it's an official report of events, a personal memoir, an entertainment for somebody else, or what. it's something I'll have to put more thought into, and may alter the tone of the whole story.

    the biggest limitation to first person POV in my experience is that there are some things the MC cannot know, and therefore can't explain, describe, or understand. Book of the New Sun and Jhereg deal with this in various ways. it's tempting to make the MC omniscient so you can tell everything through them, but that'll eventually break the reader's immersion. you have to always keep in mind what the character saw, what the character didn't see, and how (or whether) the character finds out what happened elsewhere.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good question. :) I've already forgotten what I meant; I suspect I left out a phrase. I probably meant "difficult to do well."
     
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  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Lol :D

    I think the trick with first person is don't think too much about it - it has overlaps with writing dialogue. The key difference might just be in rhythm and in what kind of details you write. I'm honestly not too sure lol, but I find first person easy to write and more enjoyable.
     

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