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Last week I posted a sample chapter of my story, (which is going to have to be changed from first person to third) and while discussing it, it came out that some people haven’t written first person point of view. Since I finally understand it, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned while writing Woven Magic. (Only time I’ll mention it, I promise.)
The strength of first person is the readers are close to the characters, looking through their eyes and inside their heads. Every word of my story was chosen by my character, so it’s all their voice. I find it the most fun, because I write as though I am my characters.
One thing I wasn’t sure how to do was when my character was thinking. It occurred to me that since it’s in first person, everything is my characters thoughts. So, there’s no reason for me to say ‘I thought’. Some people prefer to italic the internal thoughts, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I like writing direct thoughts in present tense, but that really isn’t needed either.
First person is the only viewpoint where it’s okay to be wishy-washy, because the character telling the story can be unsure. Normally it’s frowned upon to use sayings like I think, I believe, or it seems in a novel, but it’s perfectly all right in first person. (Not referring to thoughts, but when the character’s guessing, ‘I think it was curse.’)
The interesting thing that can only be done with first person is your narrator can be wrong, which is probably why it’s popular in mystery novels. The character is telling the story as they see things, so if they are misinformed the readers can be deceived too.
The hard part is the character telling the story has to be in every scene. It can be particularly difficult to get the readers to feel like a part of things when the narrator is only a spectator to the action. I had a scene like this and I solved the problem by writing it from the character in the action’s point of view, so I could understand the scene better and then rewriting it from the narrator’s point of view.
Another difficulty, (Yes, there are a lot of them) is explaining things that my character knows, and probably wouldn’t think about, but my readers need to know. My main character’s lived in this magical world all her life, so there are things she takes for granted that the readers wouldn’t understand. I had to come up with reasons for her to explain things. The opposite is also true I can’t include anything that my character doesn’t know. This is good when explaining things to the character and the reader at the same time, not so good when they’re confused, then the readers are too. (Unless that’s what I was going for.)
One of the tricky bits about first person is describing the main character. She wouldn’t say ‘My auburn hair brushed my pale cheek.’ or something equally cliché about herself. If she do say something like this, it gives her a very narcissistic feel. It may seem easy to have them look into a mirror, but I think it’s contrived. That’s not to say that all mirror descriptions are bad, I just avoid them personally. (Molly’s way of saying this is how I feel, but I don’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt.) People are more likely to notice how they’re different from others, or to complain about something they don’t like about themselves. This is how I usually describe my characters.
My weakness and something that’s easy to do in first person novel getting carried away with ‘I’. I did this, I walked here, and I looked there. When editing I realized just how many I’s I used, the trick is not using I when I don’t have too. See what I mean? That sentence hurts.
As soon as I figure out how to write in third person, again I’ll have to do one of these for third and maybe one comparing the two.
Is there anything I missed? Which point of view do you favor? After all this I’m beginning to wonder why I like first person.