First Person Stories

important is whether they’re going to use first or third person for their narrative. This is an important decision, one not to be taken lightly.

When I started writing, all the experts warned me away from first person stories. They’re limited I was told. You won’t be able to get the same richness as a third person story. And the one I love best, you can’t use multiple viewpoints in first person.

Thus, the decision should always be third person, according to those experts. So, I followed the advice and worked with third person. I immediately noticed something about my young adult books. There was an important element missing. They were flat. The characters didn’t engage the reader.

What to do? How to improve these books, all with a great story to tell?

While reworking Softly Say Goodbye for the umpteenth time, I made a decision. Writing has rules. Some are hard and fast, particularly those about grammar and spelling, but others are more flexible. What if the decision between first and third person was one of those flexible rules.

That’s when the transition began. I moved into first person stories for my teen novels. And the flat characters came to life. They owned the story. Their emotions were right in the forefront for the reader to see and feel. These fictional teens became real people.

One thing a writer must always remember is that we must be flexible in our work. There is a place for a first person story. You can do multiple viewpoints in first person, as long as the reader knows which character is in charge at the moment.

Another thing the writer must remember is that unless carefully worded, first person can become preachy. That’s something you don’t want to happen. It is more difficult to write this way, but the rewards are well worth the effort.


Cynthia Ley said…
One of the hardest parts of writing in first person is to not put too much of your SELF into the person telling the story. They are not you. I find it's helpful to ask myself, "Given my own character traits, how would I respond given a situation? Now, given my story character's traits, how would he or she respond?" In short, just because you won't put up with any stupid crap doesn't mean your character feels the same way. They may love lilacs, and you can't stand the things. And on and on.

I like to think of characters written in first person as extensions of ourselves only insofar as they emerge from our minds into print. From there, they should live and breathe on their own.

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