POV – The Effect of First Person Writing

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Point of View; First Person

Why do Authors head towards first person?

This is typically a beginners start to writing, using the first person, as it is a more natural progression from though and casual story telling in our every day lives, I did this and then this and so on.

Can focus more on learning as a consistent characters voice is more easily written.  It more easily fleshes a character on the page by allowing the audience to listen to their voice for long periods of time.

A beginning writer often finds it easier to keep consistent tone, style, and prose when writing in first person.  In some ways, a first person narrator can more easily “dump” information on the reader.

The most intimate is first person, where the narration is coming from the head of the character. We get the closest possible connection to the thoughts and feelings of the Lead.

By way of contrast, the omniscient POV is the least intimate.

Their Version

Relate their versions of the plots. Weather that version is true and honest or unreliable.

First person narration gets good when you are dealing with an unreliable narrator – Oh yeah.

Because another version of the story may exist that the narrator would like to debunk – an alternative history – or the Truth, as they see it.

Emotions and character growth

First-person point of view is used for numerous reasons, including creating a sense of emotional directness and drawing readers into the specific voice.

The first-person style also produces more immediate emotional appeal for readers. In third-person narration, with the use of pronouns such as he and she, the distance doesn’t give readers access to a character’s full response to events. Some stories require direct access to the narrator’s thoughts and feelings to be effective. Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” is narrated by 5-year-old Jack, who has been imprisoned in a backyard shed with his mother since birth. The first-person narration gives a constant, present tense stream of his thoughts and feelings as he gradually learns of the world outside.

Allows people to see more closely how much a character has changed over the course of the novel.

First person narratives also have a much easier time garnering empathy from your audience, since they end up spending so much time in your character’s brain.

Explain their world,

They are the experts of their own world of the story.

Need to persuade

The reader of the characters point of view, or explain their decision.

If done well, it can give logic and motivations to characters that would seem otherwise evil, immoral, or otherwise not relatable.

Need to tell a tale.

Looking back on the past and recounting a tail, is self aware and can imput where they went right or wrong.  Retrospective recount can help the narrator to de brief and learn from their story – or actions.

Subjective Narration/Interior Monologue

The subjective narrator is an unreliable narrator who spends most of the story trying to convince the reader of something. This narrator has a firm position about a particular event or person and uses the time in the story to argue in favor of her position. Subjective narration is often used by anti-hero main characters to justify their actions or positions and to convince the reader of their values or views.

Interior monologue often avoids complete sentences and aims to present the narrator’s views and experiences as a train of thought. It is also called stream-of-consciousness narration and it can be reliable or unreliable.

So the first question to ask about your plot is how intimate do you want it?

Is the character aspect the most important factor? You might then consider first person. But that’s not always the best choice. There are other alternatives along the way, as we’ll see.

In between First Person and Omniscient is Third person POV, which comes in two forms. Limited and Unlimited. Limited means you stick with one character throughout the book. You don’t stray into the perceptions of any other character. Unlimited means you can switch POV to another character in a another scene.

A variation on the omniscient POV is the cinematic POV, rarely used except in detective fiction. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon is the prime example of this style. Most literary novels choose the first person these days, for good reason. Since character drive is the motor of literary plots, using first person is a natural choice.

First person does not have to be limited, either. Many writers now use multiple first person narration, alternating voices with each scene or chapter.

Third person is most popular for thrillers and action driven books.

But this does not mean there is any one right answer. The right answer is what best fits your book.

Let’s have a closer look at your alternatives:

First Person

First person is the character telling us what happened.

I went to the store. I saw Frank. “What are you doing here?” I said.

Obviously, this POV requires everything to be seen through the eyes of one character. The lead can only report what she saw, not what Frank saw or felt (unless Frank sees fit to report these items to the lead). No scene can be described that the narrator has not witnessed. But, as we will see, there are some tricks you can use to get around this.

You can use past or present tense with First Person POV. The traditional is past tense, where the narrator looks back and tells his story.

But the narrator can also do it this way: “I am going to the store. I see Frank. ‘What are you doing here?” I say.”

There is an immediacy of tone here that, when handled well (as Steve Martini does in his Paul Mandarini legal thrillers) is quite nice.

But there is something you can’t do in First Person Present POV that you can do with the past tense form: The “If only I’d known” technique:

If only I’d known what was behind that door, I never would have opened it.

Can’t do that in the present. If only I knew what I don’t know now, I might not open the door, as I am doing now.

First Person makes for a very intimate, and potentially memorable, tale. But to do it well you have to:

• create a strong, interesting narrator.

•

 

Now that you understand the different possibilities for Point of View, which one is right for your novel? As you understand the possibilities, you can make a much more informed decision and carry this intentionality into your writing.

 

Disadvantages

  • Many authors discount this, but I think it’s important: the narrator needs to have a clear reason to be telling or documenting the story in the first place.
  • Describing the protagonist clearly (let alone honestly and objectively) is very difficult, and usually requires tacky tricks (like staring into a mirror).
  • Perspective and perceptions are extremely limited.

First person narrators, unless they are telling the story far in the future, are less inclined to understand the gravity of any situation. In general they are more grounded in the immediacy of any given moment and less able to see its place in the grand scope of things.

 

  • Immersion – First person is the most immersive of perspectives, even more so than the rare, “elusive” second person (which is specifically aimed at maximizing immersion). You live the adventures of the protagonist through his own eyes. Second-person narration is still someone telling me to do something or see something. First person is me doing or seeing something. I know what I know, I see what I see, no deus-ex knowledge, if I have shortcomings, they affect the way I see the world. No immersion-breaking superpowers of a 3rd person narrator. This will be a disadvantage if you want to detach the reader from the protagonist – all parables are 3rd person and giving very simple descriptions, so that we concentrate on events, not on people.
  • Lack of reflection – while for “colorful” protagonists this is a disadvantage – it takes jumping through hoops to describe them for the reader, if your protagonist is more generic, you can freely skimp on details. Leave the protagonist nameless, faceless, maybe even in extreme cases genderless – and let the reader fill in the blanks with their own face and name. This does wonders to immersion. Instead of making your own, cherry-picked protagonist, you put your generic reader in the centre of events in person. They don’t follow – they live these events! Of course this leaves you without your own cherry-picked protagonist.
  • Surprising perspective – Do cherry-pick the protagonist. Take a story that would be generic at best but tell it from perspective of a dog. Or the villain. Take a common trope: time traveller stuck with cave people. Yawn? Not if told by a caveman! Humans discovered an alien civilization? Tell that from perspective of the alien tasked with organizing their welcome! You’ll never get this done so thoroughly with 3rd person.
  • Unreliable narrator – There is simply no way to excuse the 3rd person narrator skipping/skimping/falsifying details. It will always feel cheap or wrong – or may cause reasonable doubt in case it’s merely reported as told by others. Only first-person will let you lie to the reader with impunity and then make them jump with surprise at “The protagonist is schizophrenic!” – OTOH, you’ll have a hard time to ascertain things are true that way. Also, hiding things behind scenes is easier. You Were Elsewhere Then. But then, you can’t be everywhere!

Natural – This is the fundamental way people tell their own stories. It’s the classic of centuries. A war veteran will usually tell in first person!

Examples

The Catcher in the Rye,

The Great Gatsby

A Clockwork Orange

Lolita –

Meg

by Meg

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