Monday, March 23, 2009

"I Knew My Lips Were Snarling" by Anne Carter

As a writer, I am intrigued by writing in the first person. It’s fun because it’s personal—to the character—and more “conversational”. The protagonist’s thoughts and experiences are unique to his/her personal point of view. However, there are some caveats.

First of all, the reader is immediately let in on the fact that the first-person character has survived whatever is about to happen in order to tell the story. Doesn’t work if you protag is rubbed out in chapter 19.

Readers can only know what the character knows, can only experience what s/he experiences along the way. This can make it a challenge for the author to convey important information to the reader without relying on hackneyed memory flashbacks or info-dumping conversations with other characters. The reader also might find it difficult to “see” the character’s expressions, get the full impact of his body language unless the writer is adept at describing them without sounding forced.

“I grimaced at myself in the mirror.” “I felt my eyebrows come together in a decided, confused frown.” Hmm.

On the plus side, first-person is easier to control, especially if the writer has difficulty in third-person with regard to head-hopping through multiple point-of-view characters. There is no choice here. Additionally, readers often find it easier to identify and sympathize with a character when they spend the whole book inside that character’s head. There’s an intimacy created with the protagonist that cannot exist with other characters.

Many mysteries are written in first-person for these very reasons. However, in cases where the character in question does not survive to tell the tale, or where the reader needs to be allowed to “pull back” a bit from the character in order to “see” more of the story’s surroundings, a limited third-person point of view may be more beneficial. Some mystery authors prefer this technique, because although the POV is limited to one character, the writer has more freedom with regard to what the reader is allowed to experience.

In my romantic novella STARFIRE, my protagonist is an attractive, lonely accountant who happens upon a chance to have a fling with a well-known actor. Because the reader is treated only to her fears, her desires, her angst, I can control the reader's sympathies toward her, despite the fact that others (her husband, her children, etc.) could have very conflicting views of her behavior.

The choice is yours. But if you’ve never written (or read) a first-person story, I recommend you give it a try, if for only a short. For authors, there is a discipline to staying on that first-person path that will benefit third-person or limited-third-person writings of future work. For readers, it’s just great fun to “become” someone else for the next 300 pages, solving the mystery one step at a time with the protagonist.

Anne Carter is the author of paranormal romantic mystery, POINT SURRENDER, from Echelon Press, Amazon and Fictionwise. Visit Anne at


Mark Troy said...

One advantage of first person is that you don't have to convey emotions through body language because the narrator can tell us directly what he/she feels.

OTOH, you can have another character interpret the POV's body language. E.g.
"The way your eyebrows came together I knew you were confused," he said.
"Was I that obvious?" I asked.
"Confused or practicing for the part of Frieda Kahlo."

Morgan Mandel said...

I've done short stories in the first person, but not any full length stories.

I'll have to try.

Morgan Mandel

F. M. Meredith, author said...

First person is the easiest, but I prefer close third person to write in. I'll read anything.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

old guy rambling said...

I seem to write faster in third, seems to flow more quickly. But I love first--where else can you write--
“Hello, Golf Shop, Abe Parker at your service.”
A hang up, I sat down at the table by the front window and let Jennifer finish selling a glove before speaking. “Jen that call was a hang up, haven’t had half a dozen hang ups since I been here—five years. Then in the last week maybe a dozen.”
“You point Able,” she liked to call me Able because she knew it irritated me.
“Not sure, just seems odd, like a bad movie, someone checking to see if any one is here. It’s a golf course, its summer, its daylight and sunny, of course someone is here.”
And then as an after thought she added, “Unless they are checking to see who.”

Dana Fredsti said...

I write much faster and have a more definite 'voice' using first person, but I recently wrote a novel where it was partly first person via the heroine, with about a third of it written in third person from the hero's pov. If that makes any sense.