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Thread: Why 1st person?

  1. #1
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    Why 1st person?

    Hello all.

    Tuesdays suck.

    Also, one thing Ive noticed since I came (back) here is theres an awful lot of 1st person stuff kicking about.

    Im very, very used to 3rd person, and while I have enjoyed reading some peoples 1st person submissions Im still finding it hard to get used to, which is why I havent done any crits yet in SYW. I dont want to just crit 3rd person submissions, the idea of not critting stuff purely based on writing style is restricting in several ways, yada yada more rambly stuff.

    So, what it says on the tin-why 1st person? What would you say are the pro's and cons of both writing and reading 1st person? For example, from my absolute-zero-subject knowledge PoV, I think 1st person wouldnt be good for a plot driven story... am I right?

    Sorry, it really is an alien concept to me but Im trying!

    One thing I did read through was that challenge kuw set for himself, where he took some tropes/"no-goers" to see what he could do with them. LOVED that. kuw, if you read this, I think that is totally something worth trying to get published.

    But as I said, Im not against it, just not used to it. Just thought Id ask.


  2. #2
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    1st person can be character driven or plot driven, just like 3rd. POV is a tool, and you have to choose the one that works best for a given story. 1st gives you a closer perspective on the narrating character, while 3rd tends to create more distance (especially 3rd Omni).
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  3. #3
    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Titan Orion View Post
    One thing I did read through was that challenge kuw set for himself, where he took some tropes/"no-goers" to see what he could do with them. LOVED that. kuw, if you read this, I think that is totally something worth trying to get published.
    Why thank you.

    I prefer 1st person because I like the immediacy of it. That's also why I like present tense.

    I also enjoy the subjective qualities of it, such as being able to have an unreliable narrator.

    I think 1st person is very rich in that it allows you to imply a lot about a character very subtly, just through voice. You can do that with 3rd person, to some extent, but it's more limiting in that respect. (Naturally, 1st is limiting in others, but it's more freeing in the aspects that I most appreciate.)

    ETA: I prefer 1st person for character-driven stories. I think 3rd person is often better-suited to plot-driven stories.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Why thank you.

    I also enjoy the subjective qualities of it, such as being able to have an unreliable narrator.

    I think 1st person is very rich in that it allows you to imply a lot about a character very subtly, just through voice.
    Both of these for me as well. I admit that the trend toward first person POV threw me when I first saw it--I'd never written that way in my life, and rarely read it--but now I love it.

    When you're in 1st person present there's no guarantee that the narrator is actually going to live past the end of the book. So for me, that ups the stakes/tension. And with 1st person past you get the whole question of just how reliable they are as far as the story they tell. It's a lot of fun, and as a writer it gives me so much more flexibility than 3rd person omni.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    I prefer 1st person because I like the immediacy of it. That's also why I like present tense.

    I also enjoy the subjective qualities of it, such as being able to have an unreliable narrator.
    This.

    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    I think 1st person is very rich in that it allows you to imply a lot about a character very subtly, just through voice. You can do that with 3rd person, to some extent, but it's more limiting in that respect. (Naturally, 1st is limiting in others, but it's more freeing in the aspects that I most appreciate.)
    This.

    Fiction told in 3rd person usually has to be quite heteroglossic for me to love it for its voice. Lots of well-executed free indirect discourse or (sometimes) dialogue. Character voices all over the place, all inside everything. Author voices tend to be more hit or miss (and more often miss) with me.

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    First person can be great when it is written well. The problem is that first person offers a level of immersion that third person doesn't, but the price it pays is that if the POV character thinks and acts in a way that's irrational to the reader, it'll be very jarring to read. Some first person books are fantastic - Fight Club and The Beach spring to mind. Other books I have to look past how it's written to say it does have a decent story, such as The Hunger Games (1st person present reads with the eloquence of a hippo walking tightrope to my mind).

    3rd person is how I naturally write, but I find that drafting in first person can really help if you're doing 3rd person limited. It gives you an insight you wouldn't necessarily otherwise get.
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  7. #7
    Hero, villain, angel, demon AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    When I started writing, first person was a challenge for me. Now it's my preferred POV. But there are some books that work better in third. It all depends on the character and story.

    For my current WIP, there was no question about this character being first-person. He's an android, but he doesn't know it. His individuality is a huge theme throughout the novel, so telling his story with an "I" was very important.
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  8. #8
    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dozmonic View Post
    but the price it pays is that if the POV character thinks and acts in a way that's irrational to the reader, it'll be very jarring to read.
    I think that much would be just as true of 3rd person.

    I think a bigger risk would be if the voice were annoying or the reader just can't get immersed in it.
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  9. #9
    <><'ing for compliments PPartisan's Avatar
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    I've written a few dialogues recently from a 1st person perspective, where the "I" narrator is never referred to unless it's through the other character. I also wont say anything about the narrator's mental state or what he think, and simply try to convey that mood through the other character's behaviour and hope the reader picks up on the details the narrator does.

    It can make for some very personal sensations I think, which is why I enjoy it, though I'm sure I'll try something else soon.
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  10. #10
    Science fiction, horror and fantasy Jonathan Dalar's Avatar
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    I think, and maybe in part due to the Hunger Games, first person is seeing a bit of a fadish surge right now. Like anything, perspective and point of view are tools. And they can be used correctly or incorrectly. Sometimes they fit a story better than others, and sometimes a different one fits better.

  11. #11
    Hero, villain, angel, demon AW Moderator Sage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Dalar View Post
    I think, and maybe in part due to the Hunger Games, first person is seeing a bit of a fadish surge right now. Like anything, perspective and point of view are tools. And they can be used correctly or incorrectly. Sometimes they fit a story better than others, and sometimes a different one fits better.
    First person was popular loooooooooong before THG.

    You could maybe claim first present is trendy now because of THG, but that's not really true either (first present's been trendy in YA for a while now, and THG is YA)
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  12. #12
    Shooting stars. lolchemist's Avatar
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    Want to hear something sad? When I first started writing when I was a teen, I used to write 1st person (which apparently is something a lot of teenage girls do) and when I went online, the general consensus from online writing communities was that only immature unpublishable n00bs write in 1st person so I switched to 3rd person.

    And wouldn't you know it, the genre that I'm writing for (YA) is filled to the brim with 1st person pov now, thanks in part to Stephenie Meyer (whom, I don't care how much I don't like her books, has still managed to make million$$$)

    Sometimes I want to find all those opinionated "writing experts" who so adamantly regurgitated to each other how 1st person pov was so amateurish and unacceptable and rub it in their faces how wrong they were.

    But I AM happy to be writing in 3rd person pov now because I'm not trapped inside the head of one character (or hopping between characters in alternating chapters) anymore but I DO want to sit down and write a 1st person pov book one day, just for old times sake.

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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Why thank you.

    I prefer 1st person because I like the immediacy of it. That's also why I like present tense.

    I also enjoy the subjective qualities of it, such as being able to have an unreliable narrator.

    I think 1st person is very rich in that it allows you to imply a lot about a character very subtly, just through voice. You can do that with 3rd person, to some extent, but it's more limiting in that respect. (Naturally, 1st is limiting in others, but it's more freeing in the aspects that I most appreciate.)

    ETA: I prefer 1st person for character-driven stories. I think 3rd person is often better-suited to plot-driven stories.
    I agree with everything here, except I differ in the feeling that first person is better for character-driven and third for plot-driven. I think in the hands of a skilled author either POV can work equally well for either use.


    But other than that, Kuwisdelu took the words right out of my mouth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Titan Orion View Post
    One thing I did read through was that challenge kuw set for himself, where he took some tropes/"no-goers" to see what he could do with them. LOVED that. kuw, if you read this, I think that is totally something worth trying to get published.
    Seriously. I have to admit he makes me a bit jealous because I probably won't be as good as him by the time I'm his age (). Unless that was somehow in the top 99.5th percentile of what he's capable of, he better have an Amazon link (or something) in his sig soon.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    I think 1st person is very rich in that it allows you to imply a lot about a character very subtly, just through voice. You can do that with 3rd person, to some extent, but it's more limiting in that respect. (Naturally, 1st is limiting in others, but it's more freeing in the aspects that I most appreciate.)

    ETA: I prefer 1st person for character-driven stories. I think 3rd person is often better-suited to plot-driven stories.
    A tight 3rd-person PoV can work just as well as 1st-person, and in some ways, are the same.

    The way I see PoV is more like a scale, where you can shift between PoVs when need be. 3rd-person has a wider scale than 1st, where you can go from being inside the character's head, to a more objective view outside, and vice-versa. With 1st-person, you can never go outside the character's head.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by lolchemist View Post
    when I went online, the general consensus from online writing communities was that only immature unpublishable n00bs write in 1st person
    Yeah, immature n00bs like:

    Mark Twain
    Anthony Burgess
    Harper Lee
    Rex Stout
    John D. MacDonald
    Barbara Kingsolver
    Walker Percy
    Thomas Berger
    Charles Dickens
    Robert Penn Warren

    caw

  17. #17
    Mildly Disturbing Filigree's Avatar
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    I chose first person for one novel, because it was the only way I could tell that particular story without engaging in some really awkward artificial pronouns (for the first part of the book, the narrator is a gender-neutral child, and doesn't gain a gender identity until puberty.)

    It's challenging to write and plot, but certainly not a sign of incompetence.

    Lolchemist, where on earth did you read this? Even before Meyer came on the scene, it wasn't a valid statement.

  18. #18
    50% Dark, 50% Snark Nick Rolynd's Avatar
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    I like first person for the voice. Sure, you can get a nice voice going in close 3rd, too. I've done it. But it comes more naturally in first because the narration comes from behind the character's eyes. I can slip into a voice much faster and easier in first, and generally, the result comes off sounding more authentic. At least in my writing, it does.

    However, first does have its limitations. You can't escape from the narrator's observations, which is something you have to work carefully with to keep the plot going. For my stories, which generally focus solely on one character's journey and emotional development, first works without many problems. I don't want the reader to see observations beyond my narrator. I want that range of ideas limited to my protagonist.

    Though I will admit I have a thing for close third, too. I write it just as often as I write first. =P
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  19. #19
    Holed up in the revision cave Niiicola's Avatar
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    I barely notice the POV when I read. I mean, it registers at first, but I'm only really aware of whether I like or don't like the prose, and it being first or third person doesn't matter a lick (second person, OK, maybe an issue). I wonder if it's because I get completely swept up when I read, and I read really quickly, so there's not a ton of conscious digesting? At any rate, I feel kind of the same way about present and past tense. If the author can make it work, I'm all for whatever they want to do.

  20. #20
    She Who Resonates... NancyMehl's Avatar
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    First Person

    Quote Originally Posted by Titan Orion View Post
    Hello all.

    Also, one thing Ive noticed since I came (back) here is theres an awful lot of 1st person stuff kicking about.

    Im very, very used to 3rd person, and while I have enjoyed reading some peoples 1st person submissions Im still finding it hard to get used to, which is why I havent done any crits yet in SYW. I dont want to just crit 3rd person submissions, the idea of not critting stuff purely based on writing style is restricting in several ways, yada yada more rambly stuff.

    So, what it says on the tin-why 1st person? What would you say are the pro's and cons of both writing and reading 1st person? For example, from my absolute-zero-subject knowledge PoV, I think 1st person wouldnt be good for a plot driven story... am I right?


    Popping in here for a minute. Haven't been around much, but I thought you might like to hear my experience with 1st person.

    I started out writing in third person because...that's the way most people were writing. I got rejection after rejection. Then I switched to first. Can't even remember why. Still got rejections, but suddenly the comments started to mention that they liked "my voice." Huh? Didn't even know I had one! LOL! Those comments helped me to realize that I'm a stronger writer in first person. It also helped to solve my problem with falling into passive writing.

    Now I write Mennonite-themed, romantic suspense. Usually, this kind of writing is in third, but my publishers like my voice and want me to keep my writing in first person. It's actually given me a niche in the romantic suspense genre - and especially in Mennonite fiction.

    What I'm trying to say is this: Don't be afraid to try first person. You may find out that it will help you to find your unique voice.
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  21. #21
    Shooting stars. lolchemist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Filigree View Post
    Lolchemist, where on earth did you read this? Even before Meyer came on the scene, it wasn't a valid statement.
    It was the attitude in a lot of the online writing communities, like for example in livejornal and in fanfic circles. (For some reason, most of these comms are dead now, I suppose because all those advice givers became millionaire famous authors??*) You can even see some anti-1st person pov threads on here if you look far enough. It was really disheartening.

    *haha sorry, I'm being a bit too bitter now!

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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by lolchemist View Post
    You can even see some anti-1st person pov threads on here if you look far enough.
    Document one. You made this assertion. It's not my job to "look far enough."

    caw

  23. #23
    Needs More Hands.... Fallen's Avatar
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    Attitudes change. I know mine did. I hated 1st with a passion, but then I sat and read a wide variety of genres in 1st, and I fell in love with it.

  24. #24
    Queen of the Upmarket Bagladies HoneyBadger's Avatar
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    There's a lot of bad advice out there. One thing that helps achieve proficiency in anything is critical thinking; examine what motivates the advice giver and decide if their own level of proficiency gives their advice any weight at all.

    I mean, I can tell you to give hamsters canned cat food* to help them put on weight, but since I've never owned a hamster and have never even read about them in any way, you probably don't want to listen to me, no matter how enthusiastically or articulately I give you hamster advice.

    *Probably don't do this.


    People tell beginners not to use 1st-person for similar reasons they say not to use a ton of adjectives and adverbs- 1st is hard to do well, and easy to do really, really poorly. Likewise, there's a place for adverbs, but until your training wheels come off, relax with them relaxingly.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by lolchemist View Post
    Want to hear something sad? When I first started writing when I was a teen, I used to write 1st person (which apparently is something a lot of teenage girls do) and when I went online, the general consensus from online writing communities was that only immature unpublishable n00bs write in 1st person so I switched to 3rd person.

    And wouldn't you know it, the genre that I'm writing for (YA) is filled to the brim with 1st person pov now, thanks in part to Stephenie Meyer (whom, I don't care how much I don't like her books, has still managed to make million$$$)

    Sometimes I want to find all those opinionated "writing experts" who so adamantly regurgitated to each other how 1st person pov was so amateurish and unacceptable and rub it in their faces how wrong they were.

    But I AM happy to be writing in 3rd person pov now because I'm not trapped inside the head of one character (or hopping between characters in alternating chapters) anymore but I DO want to sit down and write a 1st person pov book one day, just for old times sake.
    I don't know who it was telling you only immature unpublishable n00bs wrote in first person, but none of them were readers. First person has always been extremely popular, and Meyer has nothing at all to do with it. She was just carrying on a two hundred year old tradition.

    Seriously, anyone who claimed first first was ever unpopular, or who advised not to use it, must never have read enough novels to even think about being a writer.

    There are certainly readers who don't like first person, but this is not the same thing as saying it's unpopular. That's just silly. I started reading adult novels back about 1962, and even then, the history of first person was one of extreme popularity.

    Had those who told you not to write first person ever heard of Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Lolita, The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury, All Quiet on the Western Front, Treasure Island, Dracula, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, or any of a thousand other well-known first person novels?

    Consensus is only as good as the group of people giving you the consensus. Sometimes it's better to actually read novels and see what real writers are doing, rather than accepting the word of people who obviously don't read many novels.

    Having said this, first person is damnably tough to write well, and many advise new writers away from first person because of this. If you don't enjoy reading first person, and don't read a LOT of it, third person limited is easier.

    But the only limitations on first person are those of the writer, not the POV.

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