I came, I saw, I wrote a book about it

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.

Me at eighteen – seeing the world through her eyes…

 

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 ha

ndle 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

Award-winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Arts Council England. January 2018 sees her play Imaginationship run for three weeks at the Finborough Theatre. Previous productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s work has also been performed at the Finborough, Arcola, Hackney Attic and Sterts theatres, and at festivals including the Claremorris Fringe (New Writing Award winner), the Brighton (Sussex Playwrights’ Award winner), the UEA Contemporary European Drama Festival, Norwich. Her work will also be showcased at the Criterion theatre on Dec. 4th. Radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has been a finalist for BBC Scriptroom 12, Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and the Old Vic 12 New Voices. Sue's prose has won the the Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award and has been published widely. Sue has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from juried artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. Sue is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumna. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She is currently London-based, completing a Ph.D. on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is an Associate Lecturer in Playwriting at the Universities of Lincoln and Portsmouth, and tutors Creative Writing at City Lit. She is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

12 responses to “I came, I saw, I wrote a book about it

  • L.S. Engler

    I usually write third-person, but every so often, a first-person narrative slips in there, and it’s a lot of fun to write directly from the perspective of a single person, though, as mentioned, the limitations of one POV can be hard sometimes! I just hope I’m able to effectively capture the idea of the untrustworthy narrator and keep the reader second-guessing whether what’s going on is really happening or if he’s just gone crazy and he’s taking us with him!

    Very cool post, Sue. : ) Lots of people seem to be thinking about POV lately, myself included!

  • SusanWritesPrecise

    Great advice, as always. Thanks for sharing, Sue!

  • Susan A.

    It is the funniest thing that you brought this subject up. For the longest time, I mostly read romance novels in third person and loved them that way. Then last year I began reading Urban Fantasy, which is typically first person when following one main character in the series. That writing style grew on me quickly. I enjoy being deep inside one character’s head and seeing only what they see.

    This past week, I went back and re-read all five books of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. It is entirely in first person, though the last two books switch character POVs briefly when necessary. Like other Urban Fantasy series, I enjoy the style in which it is written and can’t imagine it any other way. Deciding to go back further after finishing the fever series to relive the same author’s Highlander series, I began reading those two days ago. Despite it being the same writer, I must admit that the third person she used for those books is not nearly as enjoyable for me as it was years ago. I hate the flip flopping between characters and seeing so many different sides. It takes out some of the mystery and makes it harder to get attached to the characters (at least for me). With romance, I like to be kept guessing as to what the hero is thinking and feeling, what his motivations are. While at the same time I like living right inside the heroine’s head and feeling everything she is. That makes first person far more preferable for me now that I’ve gotten the taste for it.

    I know many people love romance in third person, and that is okay, but It isn’t so much my thing anymore. I’m unable to understand why there is so much adversity to first person POV. Plenty of writers pull it off very well, though I do agree it can take more work to keep the “I” pronoun from being overused. Regardless, people shouldn’t be discouraged from writing it, they should simply learn the art of making it come out natural on the page. You gave great examples that writers can look to. I’m glad you did this post!

  • lauras50by50

    I’m writing my NaNoWriMo piece in third person but only from the protagonist’s view point. Hadn’t thought of doing it in first-person…but I think that would be a totally different story!

  • Diego Serrano

    Thanks Sue.
    I’m learning.

  • redjim99

    More useful insight, thanks

    Jim

  • Paul Kater

    I am doing my Nanowrimo in first person this year. And in present tense. That is indeed quite a challenge…

  • Sandy Sue

    Excellent post. I love the unreliable first person narrative, or the limited third person. One of the stories I’m working on has a bipolar narrator. I’m having a lot of fun with that!

  • JSD

    Thanks…you are teaching us so much, even if we don’t expect to write the next great novel. I will now be reading to enjoy the stories…and to look at it from the perspective of the author and how it was written. Great post!

  • lscotthoughts

    Hi Sue,

    I’m nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award, so please check out my site:
    http://lscotthoughts.com/2011/11/19/versatile-blogger-award/
    Lauren 🙂

  • Simone

    I love this and it is so helpful. Thank you. I write stories in both first and third and I am always conscious to limit the use of I and me and such by using language which allows the person to come across that she is the main subject and telling the story without the page being over loaded with I, eg. Instead of I got up and looked out of the window and I saw the familiar car of my brother, I was excited and I headed down stairs, ignorant that I was still in my pj’s I would put, waking up and looking out of the window the familiar blue mustang of my brother stood in the long grave doorway, running down the steps, my pj’s a minor issue and excitement overtook the mind. It gives more of and insite, reads better, more discriptive and not a single I just a few my’s. Another one is the use if said, it make me mad when people over use said, when other discriptive words would work so much better.

    Thanks for this. Hope u don’t mind if I print and keep this, thanks for the follow and thanks for reading. Will be posting more short stories soon.

    Simone

  • gracestovall

    I love your blog! So many great tips! I love all of your information that you have to share…can’t wait to read more!

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