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The Joy of 'I' - writing in the first person

August 23, 2015

THIS FIRST APPEARED AS PART OF AN ARTICLE ON FIRST PERSON/THIRD PERSON WRITING IN HEARTS TALK, THE MONTHLY NEWSLETTER OF THE ROMANCE WRITERS OF AUSTRALIA, JULY 2015 

 

I wrote exclusively in the third person from two viewpoints until last year.

I’d finished writing my sixth book and found something fundamentally wrong: the tension between my hero and heroine was not compelling.

 

Several failed rewrites later, I had my first person epiphany wondering what would happen if my heroine told her own story, without the hero butting in and stealing the spotlight.

 

And bingo! – Wanting Mr Wrong was born.

 

 

This is what I learned along the way.

 

Pros

  • First person narrative gives you an inbuilt focal point for the story.

  • Going deep into your narrating characters’ heads and hearts, explaining their thoughts and feelings and motivations unambiguously, can intensify your readers’ relationship with them.

Cons

  • When your star players are constantly talking about themselves, they’re in danger of coming across as raging egomaniacs or self-absorbed losers.

  • Without a mechanism for expressing themselves, your other characters can suffer ‘cardboard cut-out’ syndrome.

Solutions

  • The more sharp and meaningful dialogue you can include, the better – it’s a great way to layer in personality for every character, whether or not they have a direct voice.

  • Jam your show-don’t-tell hat on your head hard enough to gouge a groove in your scalp; characters reveal themselves through what they do – and most interestingly when it’s at odds with what they say.

  • Don’t join all the dots. Leaving room for interpretation keeps your readers on emotional tenterhooks. Your first person storytellers may see/hear/smell/touch/taste something, but don’t have to necessarily understand it – even when that sight/sound/scent/feel/flavour is theirs …

Last word

 

In first person, everything is filtered through the narrators; the reader knows only what the narrators tell them. Do not break this rule.

 

Get it wrong, and you’ll write unlikable characters.

 

Get it right, and you’ll give your readers a rich, deep, wonderfully involving experience.

 

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