Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why I Don't Like First Person Stories

Yes, I know that got some of you looking. Let me start off with saying that the title of this post is a bit vague because there is clearly much more to this than simply a like or not like argument. In fact, I, like many other editors and agents really don't have an issue so much with whether or not a story is in first or third person. The problem all stems with the execution of it.

I have said this before and I will say it again. Your story dictates the voice you take. It will also dictate whether or not you should be writing in first person or third person. What I see, however, is that far too many authors seem to take the wrong approach for their story, and in the end, the story is really lacking.

I personally believe a lot of people take the first person approach because of the ease in writing it. In other words, if you just put yourself into the mind of the character, you just tell us what you are doing and experiencing. As a writer, if I take this approach, I just listen to the words flow out of my head and tell you what I am thinking, if if I am a vampire or a zombie at that particular moment.

I also believe a lot of writers take this approach because of the struggles they might have with narration, introspection, information dumping and world building.

But, I do believe there are more drawbacks to writing in a first person voice than there are in a third person voice. Let's work off of this diagram to see what I mean.

If we examine the third person side of the flow chart, you will see that there is a lot more that can be added to the story. Starting at the top, we have the issue of knowing what the other characters are thinking in the story. If you take the first person approach, then we only get that one perspective.

Now, I do know that some writers have tried to take the approach of having all of the characters tell the story in first person. Although this is a solution, this becomes a difficult task to prevent the story from sounding too episodic, or making sure that the differing points of view are constantly linked up together in theme, thought and movement through the story. 

Going on with the chart, we are also missing out on many of the histories and back stories of the characters. Now, it is up to the author to do several things to get that information out. The first is to create random scenes with the primary purpose of an information dump. We get the characters together around the dinner table and the narrator says, "So tell me your history." This is really just like any other poorly placed information dump. 

But there is also another level. Speaking in first person, characters are only going to talk about the things that are important to them. One of the biggest is the world building element. Think about it this way. When you walk into your house, do you take the time to "survey the surroundings" and to "discuss the things you see, smell and experience? Probably not. And guess what, your characters will not do the same thing either.

It is this same element that comes into play with the introspection. Again, the characters will only discuss the things they are thinking about at that time. This is all simply a reactionary approach to getting the information out to the reader.

Please understand, I am not saying I don't like first person. IF it is done right, then using it is not a problem. I think it is also important to understand that specific genres do not have to be written in first person. For some reason, writers seem to think that YA and New Adult have to be in first person. At least that's what it seems like from the number of submissions I see written in this format. 

Don't feel trapped by one approach. Do what will work the best. But understand there are drawbacks to each approach, and personally, I think there are more things working against you with first person than third.


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