When writing prose, 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.
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 or Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
May 22nd, 2012 at 23:56
I personally like to write in the 3rd person, which may be due to my British roots. Here in the US writers are told to write in the first person, but I find it restrictive. I like to imagine what all my characters are thinking…
May 23rd, 2012 at 03:32
Anne Rice used first person narrative quite effectively as well.
May 23rd, 2012 at 07:44
My favourite author Haruki Murakami has written quite a few novels in the first person and for me manages it beautifully. Enjoyed this post as I am having to make this decision for my next draft and I cannot decide which way to go. I would rather know first and start than have to switch once I am into the story. I appreciate though that that can happen.
May 23rd, 2012 at 09:49
I prefer first person and love the potential for immediacy.
May 23rd, 2012 at 12:59
I do like reading novels in which I understand more than the narrator. They make me feel clever. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is another example.
May 23rd, 2012 at 16:07
The book “Room” has a great unreliable first person narrator. He’s a five year old boy who lives with his mother who was abducted as a teenager and is still being held captive by her kidnapper. I didn’t spoil anything here, so no worries. It’s a great read.
This was a great article.
May 23rd, 2012 at 22:55
I’ve been playing with an idea that uses four different 1st person perspectives. Do you know of any published work that uses this style?
May 26th, 2012 at 06:23
I judge a book by its cover. Lovely dimples.
May 30th, 2012 at 21:18
Lovely picture, Sue! I enjoy reading your posts and the info and insights you offer.