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