The Trouble With First Person Narrators

I realized that I’d been away from the blogosphere a while but a month?! Goodness do I have a lot to catch up on! In the meantime, allow me to assure you that I’m still alive and well. A bad case of writer’s block followed by a few busy weeks of prep for the school year has kept me away. Not that it’s a good excuse, but for some reason I always feel the need to explain my shortcomings anyway. : )

Anyways, on to more interesting things…

I am an admitted first-person-aholic. Since I grew tired of writing in third person in fifth grade, the first person narrator has become my modus operandi. Perhaps it’s because it helps me delve deeper into the character’s mind and motives or because of all of those pesky third person pronouns means that eventually it becomes unclear which “he” or “she” is who.

Regardless, a first person narrator has challenges that a third person narrator doesn’t usually encounter. One of them I hadn’t even considered until my mom’s recent review of my novel. (If you were wondering, no, it’s not finished yet but it’s much closer.)

First person narrators are easily affected by their feelings.

Just as you and I perceive situations based off of our emotions, so do first person narrators. And while this seems so obvious, it’s easy to forget (at least, apparently, for me). My narrator isn’t deeply flawed or unstable. However, that doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily the ideal reliable narrator. As her understanding of situations change, her feelings obviously change.

More importantly, those changes alter how she tells her story. She isn’t like the news reporters of the early 1800’s who kept more to facts than to feelings. (Certainly more so than after yellow journalism was born.) She is like me. She gets angry, upset, excited, etc., and her perceptions of people and events reflect it. And surely that must be reflected in her descriptions of those people and events (especially given the writing style I’ve chosen).

So now you know what I’ll be doing during the next round of novel editing. Then maybe I’ll finally take the advice Emma Coats gave and let the story be done. Maybe.

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10 responses to “The Trouble With First Person Narrators

  • Alison D.

    Very nice summation of using a first person narrator. I prefer third person myself, but to each her own! Good luck on the revision.

    • Bryna

      Thanks for stopping by, Alison! I certainly can see why you love third person. It leaves so many possibilities open that you don’t have with first person, and most of my favorite books are written in it. : )

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    I mostly don’t do first person from the protag’s POV. I either do third person (because there’s too much ground to cover and no one character would see it all) or first person from an observer POV (my detective character has a “Watson”).

    It’s probably related to the fact that I’m more influenced by movies than by books, but I mostly show the outsides of the characters and make the readers do the work to figure out what’s going on inside. You know, like life. :-)

    • Bryna

      Ah, the Watson perspective! I think that’s one of the most charming things about Sherlock Holmes. It seems to take the best elements of first and third person narration and wraps them into one. : )

  • C.B. Wentworth

    I’ve been tinkering with first person a lot lately and I love it! :-)

  • Third Plan8(Planet)

    1. I agree, writing in 1st person can be hard. I am trying it for the first time in one of my stories that I started a month ago or so and it can be difficult.
    2. I nominated you for an award!! :D http://thirdplan8fromthesun.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/gasp-an-award-yayz-d/

  • A Wannabe Writer

    I tend to switch between 1st and 3rd person myself. Personally I love writing in 1st person as it enables you to really dig deep into a character, but sometimes I want to create some separation between me and my character or I want to include observations which does not necessarily come from the narrator’s point of view.

    • Bryna

      Switching between third and first? That’s cool! I can’t say that I’ve ever experimented with it, but I certainly can see how it would help with some of those pesky situations that first person narrators stick you in. : )

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