I, Me, Mine

 

Once you’ve found your character, the next decision you’ll make regards narrative point-of-view. Think of your favourite novels. Do you favour 1st person (“I”) or 3rd person (“he/she/it”) books? Chances are, you’ll write more comfortably using the type of narrative point-of-view you prefer to read.

Today I’d like to blog about using the first person narrative point-of-view. If you chose the “I” narrative, or first person, your tale will be viewed through the eyes of one of your characters and events will be expressed in that character’s language and should reflect this character’s perceptions and opinions.

The first person can be very intimate and often allows access to the protagonist’s innermost thoughts, which is a helpful method of hooking the reader.

 On the negative side, all that “I, me, my” can be akin to listening to a monologue – and may bore the reader, if you’re not careful. Additionally, you are limited as to what you can tell the reader, as you can only “know” what your narrating character “knows”. Finally, littering the page with “I”s – neither looks nor “sounds” appealing. For the above reasons, the first person is often more suited to short stories rather than novels. Having said that, there are wonderful first person novels out there and if you are determined to use a first person narrator, you really ought to read great examples of this narrative point-of-view to get a good handle on it:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway

Also, a first person narrator could be a minor character observing a major character, which may remedy some of the pitfalls outlined above. Examples of this type of narrative include Sherlock Holmes and Wuthering Heights.

The Unreliable First Person Narrator 

My personal favourite first person narrator is the unreliable variety. It has great comic/tragic potential. With an unreliable narrator, the story is told by a character that doesn’t really “get” what is going on. The reader guesses the true state of affairs, however, and the narrator becomes the butt of the joke. An unreliable narrator is often a child or a naïve or foolish person who does fully comprehend how the world works (think Forrest Gump). The resulting book/play/short story can be quite funny and/or very moving. See the following examples:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon

Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

 

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About suehealy

An Irish writer and playwright, I am a Doctoral Fellow with Lincoln University (school of performing arts scholarship) researching a PhD on Irish playwrights at the Royal Court Theatre, London. I am also a UEA Creative Writing MA alumna. My short-stories have won seven prizes including the Molly Keane Memorial and the HISSAC Awards and short-listed for a further fifteen. My drama credits include four BAI-funded radio plays: Cow (2013), The Daffodil (2014), Cake (2014) and Strongbow's Clock (2014), all directed by acclaimed playwright Jim Nolan. I also won the Sussex Playwrights’ Award, shortlisted for the BBC International Playwriting, BBC Writersroom 4, The Script HotHouse and Shoreline Screenwriters’ Awards. My three staged readings include the 2013 Festival of Contemporary European Drama. My prose is published in seven international literary publications. I am also a 2013 Escalator Writer. View all posts by suehealy

17 responses to “I, Me, Mine

  • catwoods

    My last WIP, a YA, had a very unreliable narrator. But she had multiple personality disorder, so was actually reporting things EXACTLY as she remembered…and so did her alters.

    Very fun, yet very difficult piece to write. And you’re right, tragic it was.

  • catwoods

    It currently sits in the hands of my Awesome Agent. Hopefully my execution of it is as good as I feel it in my heart and see it in my head. Sometimes getting things to work on paper are a bit tricky!

    LOL. I can only hope he loves it as much as I do. Or even a fraction would be nice!

  • Donna Trussell

    Songwriters do the same. Here’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, singing from the point of view of a town, “I Am a Town.” I’m a town in Carolina / I’m a detour on a ride / for a phone call and a soda / I’m a blur from the driver’s side… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnSHWGdiBrk

  • sueannbowlingauthor

    I used a cat as a 1st person narrator in a short-short once. Not exactly reliable, especially where dogs were concerned.

  • Paul Kater

    I found that using a reliable first person narrator, the story needs to be fast paced with a lot of interaction, either through dialogue or through information coming through radio, tv or internet-things.
    Otherwise the story can become a puzzle and confusing quickly. Which can be interesting.

  • Rob

    The other problem with first-person narrators is that you can’t kill ‘em off at the end! (unless they’re dead at the beginning e.g. The Lovely Bones.)

  • connetta

    I love writing about Father Time, Mother Nature, spring, summer, Autumn, jack frost..old man winter. and letting them talk..

  • NK

    I’ve been reading a great deal lately about the unreliable narrator… still not sure I get it but thank you for providing a list of works that fall into this category – it is definitely making more sense to me now. I think some consider Pi in Life of Pi to be unreliable… the verdict is still out on that one for me.

  • Brittany

    I used to dislike writing in first person because I personally felt I couldn’t write good dynamic characters in first but now I’m writing in first more often than third.

  • Tanz Sixfingers

    I found this very helpful. I was struggling with my current short story until I realsied it was begging to be told in first person; now it is coming along nicely. And I am using a minor-ish character as the narrator, as I don’t want the reader in the head of the protagonist. I was thinking of Sherlock Holmes style while writing it; my narrator is basically the sidekick of the protagonist.

  • Judith Post

    I love urban fantasy, and first person is popular in those novels because it makes the story more immediate. I especially like Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series–a brilliant use of first person. Faith Hunter uses first person for her Jane Yellowrock series, too. Only knowing what the protagonist knows adds a lot of tension. It’s great for building suspense.

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