Writing in first person . . .

13 Mar

Last time I talked about point of view – and head-hopping, etc.,

Well, I’ve noticed that in some of these ‘first person’ tales, there’s an awful lot of ‘I’s going around. Of course, you say! How can you do first person without using ‘I’?  Naturally, you could hardly do an entire book without it, but I’m not convinced there need to be as many ‘I’s as there are.

You can use alternate sentence structuring to begin with. If you really are using first person –- huh?  What’s that you say? What else is there, if not first person?

Good question. If you’re the main character in the tale, and you’re not doing the narrating, then the next logical choice is omniscient. The definition of this word is ‘all-seeing’ which is pretty close.  Actually, my dictionary says: Having total knowledge; knowing everything.  Put yourself in a seat at the theater. If you’re going to describe the action to someone who can’t see it, then you’re the omniscient narrator. You can see everything, but the other person can’t, for whatever reason. Maybe you’re on your phone . . . no! We’re not going there. No phones, thank you.

Okay. Back to the beginning. Most narration is either omniscient or first-person. This is not to be confused with tense. The tense is 99% of all books is past tense. Present tense is very difficult to read (‘I go’ or ‘am going’ rather than ‘I went’. ‘She is going’, rather than ‘she went’.) I suspect it’s even harder to write! But I digress. Sorry.

My biggest gripe with first person (I really do love this style, by the way) is when nearly every sentence begins with ‘I’.  It doesn’t need to be that way, truly it doesn’t. It seems less clumsy to me, if you let the adverb or adjective, or whatever it is, go first. (Apologies for the goofy formatting here. Not my fault. WP insists on putting a space after every line. Grrr.) 

I awkwardly began to tip-toe through the dark.  –or–  Awkwardly, I began to tip-toe through the dark.

I opened the closet door. (If you do this, you almost have to start the next sentence with ‘I’, too.)  –or–  Opening the closet door, I (did whatever) . . .

I loved the feeling of being home when I unlocked the front door and entered the living room.  or–  Unlocking the front door and entering the living room always brought such a sense of peace to me. I’d always been a wanderer.

I think you can see from these three short examples that not beginning the sentence with ‘I’ allows you much more leeway to add to the action.

It is vital to remember, however, that in first person, you can NOT know what is going on in anyone else’s head! NOT! That person can tell you, so you can then repeat it, but until someone tells you something, you have no way of knowing it. Unless, of course, you’re both skilled and certified as a mind-reader! Not? I thought so.

On the other hand, first person is obviously much more intimate – the reader is right there with you for every moment of the action. In omniscient viewpoint, the narrator is a benign factor – and as such, cannot influence any action or dialogue. The narrator is only the reporter, and unless the action takes place under his or her nose, the person must wait to be told what has happened.

I hope this makes sense?  –or–  Hoping this makes sense, I’ll say bye-bye for now! See you in two weeks! Questions and/or comments welcome.  As always!


11 Responses to “Writing in first person . . .”

  1. Judy Scott March 13, 2013 at 12:48 am #

    Since I just happened to be online when you posted this, here is an instant comment. The use of I isn’t overdone, at least in what I read. What I don’t particularly care for is the change of narrators from chapter to chapter, although that does let the reader know the thoughts of each character. Reading your blogs is so enjoyable, even though our genre preference is totally different. Your ideas are universal. As for me, I did have to edit the above to remove myself from the forefront.


    • Site Admin March 13, 2013 at 12:56 am #

      Maybe some editors are better than others?

      Thanks! Kelly

  2. Ty Drago March 13, 2013 at 1:58 am #

    I write a lot of first person and, yes, it can get repetitive. My favorite method for overcoming that sort of this is to adopt a conversational – almost a “dear reader” style. Readers seem to respond to the intimacy of it. Just my two cents.

    • Site Admin March 13, 2013 at 2:32 am #

      Whatever works, right?

      Thanks, Kelly

    • susan March 13, 2013 at 3:14 am #

      Ty, I really enjoyed the examples in the blog. Can you give me an illustration of your “Dear Reader” approach? I’m sure I would know when I see it, I just can’t wrap my head around it with the current response. Thanks!

  3. susan March 13, 2013 at 3:05 am #

    Wow, I have to say that is the best blog of yours that I have read Or Upon reading this blog, I realized that it is quite insightful. I have always struggled with the overuse of I. You’re third example really hits it home. Remembering my composition classes, my instructors always informed me that the pronoun “I” was used too much (See, you just helped me relay that without starting off with I – this blog clarified for me how to avoid the overuse of ‘I” – and should I confess that this has still been a struggle for me in my 40’s?) This post is going to be shared with my English Teaching friends who struggle with concept; it is that good. To the previous comment, many great works of fiction change narrators in the novel; if the author has found the voice of the characters, you should have no problem determining who is narrating.

    • susan March 13, 2013 at 3:06 am #

      I wish I could edit, like the option on Facebook; wrong “you’re”, missing words. smh

      • susan March 13, 2013 at 3:12 am #

        And the teachers don’t struggle, the students do. I need an editor:)

  4. Bob March 13, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    You mentioned writing with the omniscient perspective and in first person, but what about taking the point of view of one character? Then I find myself struggling with too many sentences beginning with he/she or the person’s name. Did I miss something in your post?

  5. Trudy Brandenburg March 13, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I posted your link on Sisters in Crime, and Word Lovers Facebook pages.  🙂


  6. douglasesper March 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    With the first example, you could cut it to read: awkwardly, I tip-toed through the dark. It reads a little cleaner and leaves more options to add more action to the sentence…
    I enjoyed this blog and it has prompted me to dig out my first novel and count for i’s!

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