Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Problem With First Person

"So Scott, should I write in 1st or 3rd person?"

Oh, how I really hate that question! Not simply because it comes up over and over again and I feel like I am repeating myself, but more importantly - because it really doesn't matter.

Choosing to write in 1st person or 3rd person is not only a personal choice but one that the story dictates to the writer. In other words, some stories have more of an impact because we are getting the story directly from the character. Some don't.

"But Scott, it is so much easier to write in 1st person..." you whine.

Sorry to say it, but writing in 1st person is not easier. The only thing that is easier is to write the dialogue of a story. As a writer, I will grant this! When I write, I often use my digital recorder to just talk through the dialogue in the scene. You are right, this is easy. But....

Writing in 1st person often forgets all of that depth we love in stories, and if you do try to put it in the story, 9 times out of 10, you have the characters saying things they would never say.

We have to remember that if you want to write in 1st person, you have to get the writer really sucked into the story and your life. In other words, like anyone taking to you, if you don't like the person from the first moment, you quit listening. The same applies to stories.

When I see someone hear that someone is writing in 1st person and they tell me it was easier, I have a pretty good bet the story will lakc any depth to create a truly three dimensional story. It will either stem from writers not telling me enough, or a writer having the character telling me things instead of showing me things.

Let's try it this way. When you walk into your living room, some place you see over and over again, do you stop and contemplate the scene? Do you describe the softness of cushions on the sofa or the warm glow of the lights? Sorry to say it, in all likelyhood, you just do like all of us. We walk in the room and throw our coat on the sofa.

I have to say, I have found very few stories that are told well in first person. Sure, you might be the next, but really, are you writing it effectively?



  1. I wrote my debut novel in first and I am always amazed at those who claim "1st is easy to write" for the very reasons Scott states.

  2. I wouldn't say it's easier, but it comes more naturally to me. In fact, I prefer to read books written in first person and it has to be a special book written in third person that grabs me. "Bet Me" by Jennifer Crusie is one. I love it so much I forget it's written in third. :)

    It seems to me, people either love first person or they hate it.

  3. Not sure I understand your comment about dialogue being easier to write in first person. How so?

    I also believe that good writing is good writing, regardless of the POV. I'm willing to bet there are plenty of 3rd-person novels that have too much description of cushions, etc--although I'm not sure why writing in 3rd-person makes this more acceptable.

    Lastly , depth--the majority of the novels that have made me cry are in 1st-person: anything by Jonathan Tropper, Julie Buxbaum's "The Opposite of Love," Barbara Samuel's "No Place Like Home," Megan Frame's "Frenemies," Earl Emerson's "Into The Inferno" and anything by Emily Giffin. I'm much more likely to pick up a first-person book *because* I find there's often more depth to them :)