Writing In First Person Suzanne D. Williams

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I have a friend who hates first person. When I told her I was writing this article, I asked her what made it so bad, and she said, “The first person aspect.” I admit I laughed, but digging deeper, it seemed the problem was that a lot of times writers who choose first person don’t inject enough personality into their character and it becomes a series of “I went here. I went there. I talked to him.” Boring.

First person gives you the opportunity to put the reader inside the main character’s head and as such, affords a chance to inject thoughts that third person does not. There is, of course, a caution to this. Some stories are not made for first person. There is no hard and fast rule pro or con using it. I usually ask writers how they hear the tale. I also ask how putting it into first person would change things. This is actually a very good exercise. Take a book you’ve written in third person and read it in first. You’ll find aspects of the plot and the characters’ personalities change dramatically, sometimes good, sometimes bad. But it’ll help you reaffirm your choice.

When using multiple points of view, I stick to my main character being in first. I put all the secondary characters in third (he, she). I read a book once that used first person for both the male and female point of view, and I was hopelessly confused. Mixing first with third gives a good perspective for the story and, if done well, is seamless between scenes.

Making it seamless requires understanding how to use both. The rules for first often do not apply to third and vice versa. To put it simply, you can get away with more in first than you can in third. You still have to watch for instances of telling, but it isn’t as concrete. Injecting personality into first person, however, is a must. A lot of my characters are Southern, so I like to use slang and accents to make things more interesting. I also inject opinion. Characters do, in fact, have opinions on their world, and that’s a great way to not fall into the mundane-plotline trap.

Here’s an example from an unreleased story entitled “How To Love A Cowboy”:

I did have to fight with long-standing prejudices. Case in point, my neighbor Rattlesnake McClean. Now, I’m sure Rattlesnake was not his actual name, but what it was no one knew; and it didn’t matter anyhow because his nomen fit his character – all coiled and ready to strike. He didn’t see any need to ever change things from what they’d been to what they are, didn’t care that I had fences around my property to keep his cattle out, and certainly, didn’t think a woman had any business holding herself all hoity-toity over a man.

He routinely disobeyed legalities, letting his herds wander where they will, and, as a result, butted heads with me, a gleam in his eye, a spring in his step. I think our sparring kept him alive. Rumor said he was eighty-two, that he had eighteen siblings, all dead now, and the heart of a thirty-year-old. I believed it. I figured he’d see one hundred before his constitution ran out.

… By reading just these two paragraphs, you can already figure out the woman speaking is strong-willed and from a Southern background. It seems like a conflict is going to arise between her and her neighbor, and I’m betting she’s going to win in the end.

A more trivial thought on writing in first person involves authors who ONLY write in first person. As a reader, after a while, all the characters blend together for me. If you find first person easier to write, then challenge yourself and do a book in third. The same applies in reverse. If you never write in first, try it and see how it helps you grow as a writer.

That is, after all, the purpose of writing, to become better at it.

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Suzanne D. WilliamsBest-selling author, Suzanne D. Williams, is a native Floridian, wife, mother, and photographer. She is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors. She is co-founder of THE EDGE.

To learn more about what she’s doing and check out her extensive catalog of stories, visit http://suzanne-williams-photography.blogspot.com/ or link with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/suzannedwilliamsauthor or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scw1217

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