Writing Styles: Writing in First Person

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth installment of my Writing Styles Segment (Yay! I finally came up with an official name for it! WHOOT! 😀 ).

Today I thought it’d be fun to delve into First Person.

Out of all the styles, I think this is the simplest in that the rules are clearly defined and relatively easy to follow. Sort of. By that I mean there are two types.

The first is what is widely known and used Limited style that’s generally referred to simply as First Person. In this style, the narrator is the main character or focus of a chapter by using the pronouns I or we instead of he or she for the main character. We see and know only what they do (Similar to Third Person Limited). By narrowing the world view down to its simplest form, it allows us to become one with the character as they try to deal with whatever difficulties the author throws at them.

The biggest difference, in my opinion, from Third Limited is that we’re the character. In Third Limited, I look at it like we’re watching a TV show or movie, but in First Person, we are the character. Make sense?

Some fantastic examples of using this style are Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Mysteries and Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire or Thirst series. In those, we experience the world through a single character’s POV (Points of View) from start to finish.

Many feel that this style allows us to better explain our character’s emotions and thoughts while making the story more engaging.

It’s easy to understand how when we read something like:

I came to a stop at the corner at seeing Joe getting into the black sedan. What’s he up to? I wondered, before deciding to follow.

In this example, the character’s angst is felt right away, but we may gain the same feeling using other styles as well. It’s all about what we feel a connection to and what works best for us.

The downside is this can be frustrating if we want to use other characters’ POVs. In that case, the POVs are often switched by using chapter breaks. To signify the POV changing to a different character, each chapter is often titled with the character’s name. It’s a simple, yet effective way we can let the reader know what we’re up to. All we have to do is keep the voices unique and the POVs locked inside their heads. Not a problem, right? If it is, we then have…

First Person Omniscient.

Yep, there is an actual First Person Omniscient style, though it’s rarer than Third Omniscient.

In this style, the narrator continues to use the pronouns I and we to signify the main character, but he/she also knows everything that’s happening around them, including other character’s thoughts, feelings, etc.

The best way I’ve seen to describe this is by using the campfire story analogy. In this instance, the narrator often breaks through the third wall to tell us something we wouldn’t know.

For Example:

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Did she lose her mind?

If she had, it wouldn’t be the first time. Remember when I mentioned that time she ate her pet frog? Yeah, that was a banner day for sure.

Notice how the narrator addresses us? Just by putting that little bit in here and there is all it takes. The trick is not to do this to the point it becomes a distraction and takes our readers out of the story.

How much is too much? It’s a personal choice. As with everything we do, the final decision comes down to us as to what we feel does the story justice, but it’s important we work to hone our skill as much as possible and listen to our beta readers and editors when it comes to our usage.

When using any Omniscient style, it’s easy to become caught up in adding little tidbits like these every time we finish a scene of even a paragraph. More than with any other style, I think, it’s important for us to be able to step back and look at what we’ve written with an objective view. If breaking the third wall does nothing to develop our characters and move the story forward, we need to take it out.

Remember, keeping an open mind will serve us better than building a wall around us ignoring what others have to say if they’re trying to help.

Well, that about does it this week. Next week, we’ll close out this series by discussing writing in Second Person.

As always, if you have any thoughts or tips you’d like to share, please do so. I love to hear what’s on your minds. Also, if there’s something you would like to see a blog post about, let me know. I’ll see what I can do.

Until next time, my friends, let your imaginations fly!

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About CP Bialois

Where do I begin? Well first I guess it's only fair to say that CP Bialois isn't my real name. It's a collaboration I made out of the three greatest pets anyone could ever want. My real name is Ed and I'm just an average person that has found a way to do what he loves. For as long back as I can remember I loved to pretend. Whether it was with my Transformers, GI Joe, or He-Man toys I loved to create intricate plots and have them fight it out. As a fan of horror, science fiction, action, and comedy I dare say my taste in movies are well rounded. Some of my favorites were Star Wars, Star Trek, martial arts, and anything with Swarzenegger in them. I'd write my own stories about the characters I saw in the theaters or TV or I'd just daydream about what I'd see myself as the hero of course. You can't have a daydream without beating the bad guys, getting the girl, etc. It's just not right to envision yourself as a flunky or sidekick. As far as books I loved Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island, Dracula, and the normal assortment. My early love was the Star Trek novels, I'd read them or the Hardy Boys relentlessly. For a time I could tell you the plot of over a hundred books not to mention comics. I have to come clean and say that I learned to read because of comic books. I was bored, make that extremely bored when we started to read in school. Reading "the cat fell down" really didn't interest me. My dad, who continues to astound me with his insight to this day, figured comics would work. With that in mind he went to the newstand in town and bought issues of Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Tales From the Crypt, and Spider-man. He patiently read through them with me until I picked it up. Whether it was him or the comics I learned to read in about two weeks and for a while few were as good as I was. For years after that whenever we'd go out he'd always spring for a couple of comic books for me. While it wasn't exactly the perfect beginning everything I've ever read or have seen has influenced me in some way and now is the time I'd like to share some of the ideas I've had over the years with all of you. I hope you enjoy my stories, they're always fun to write and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.
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2 Responses to Writing Styles: Writing in First Person

  1. schillingklaus says:

    Just exchanging “he”/”she”/”it” for “I” is a grammatical exercise for elementary school and new learners of a foreign language, but hardly a different kind of PoV.

    A better distinction would be between consonant and dissonant first person narrator, introduced by Dorrit Cohn in Transparent Minds (1978). Consonant is close to deep PoV, dissonant is closer to omniscient.

    • cpbialois says:

      When the story is told through switching the MC’s pronouns from he/she/it to I in narration is establishing a different kind of POV (Third to First). Consonant and dissonant are used with all POV styles, and really don’t differentiate between Third, Second, or First.

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