I must admit, I don’t write in the first person. I’ve made a couple of sincere, well-intentioned, short, and disastrous attempts at it. It’s not my strength. I always go for third person. Lately, I’ve preferred a narrator that doesn’t even focus on one character, but I use different characters to focus the narration in different scenes. That’s pretty standard in the kind of fantasy I write.
Thus, today’s post is less me giving creative writing tips and more me asking a question of those who do write in the first person:
Do you find it’s a heck of a lot like writing dialogue?
It seems to me it would be. I’ve always considered first person narration a lot like the narrator-character telling his or her own story to the reader. S/he is speaking, and we’re listening. Sometimes first person narrators even anticipate questions/objections/concerns on the part of their audience and address those openly. To me, that seems like a conversation.
And conversation is dialogue, isn’t it?
DIALOGUE OR MONOLOGUE?
Well, in this case, maybe the narration is more like a monologue. There’s no way for the reader to interject and initiate any kind of back and forth. Really, I’d say first-person narration is a lot like a one-sided conversation.
- The narrator speaks in his or her own voice. You get characterization coming through not just in what happens in the story, but in the way the story is told.
- Your first person narrator can definitely lie, just like when people tell a story. Your readers don’t have to trust him or her. In fact, you might not want them to. Unreliable narrators can be TONS of fun!
- Even if well-intentioned, your first person narrator can be wrong about things. He can misinterpret, or be confused, or be intentionally misled by others.
- First person narration can include jokes, digressions, rants: all kinds of things we do in conversation but that third person narration can’t really get away with easily.
That’s why it seems to me that writing narration in first person would have a lot in common with writing dialogue, or at least one person’s side of the dialogue. When you give the narrator a name and make him or her a character, then your narration goes from being an impersonal description to a personal recounting of memories. In many ways, that’s equivalent to speech. You have to assume most of your first person narrators are going to write more or less like they talk, right?
I’m thinking of Holden Caulfield from “The Catcher in the Rye” and Mattie Ross from “True Grit.”
So, first person writers, how off the mark am I in your experience? I’m just curious because maybe in the future I’ll give writing in the first person one more shot!