As cool as I think writing in first person is, there are, of course, some drawbacks. (Wow, a lot of commas there, huh?) So, before you get 30k into your brand spankin’ new WIP, let’s consider a few of our favorite POV’s shortcomings.
1. Suspense killer. Usually, if the person is narrating the story, you know he or she is going to be alive on the other end. Now, there are creative ways to get around this. Carrie Ryan wrote Forest of Hands and Teeth in first person present. The narrative could have stopped any time, no problem with suspense there. Some writers might try alternating a POV if the MC died during the story. That is tricky, but can be done if handled with care. Jay Asher, in Thirteen Reasons Why, had alternating first person narrative. One of the narrators was Hannah Baker who the reader knew would be dead at the end of the story. [It's a story about her suicide. She's dead at the beginning of the book, too. Not a spoiler, people.]
2. Claustrophobia. First person is the most restrictive point of view. It’s easy for a writer to feel boxed in. Especially when trying to lay clues and the groundwork for what is to come. How can you highlight clues that the narrator doesn’t catch? Again, this can be dealt with by having a very sleuthy MC who does pick up on the clues, but doesn’t piece them together. But the reader can’t know anything the narrator doesn’t. Very tricky…very tricky, indeed…
3. The almost-autobiography. There is a temptation, in writing first person, to inject yourself into the narrator and into the narrative. After all, you’re throwing around all these “I”s and “mine”s. It can be difficult to separate. But, as interesting as I’m sure you are, the story you’re trying to tell might be more so. Moreover, as I mentioned yesterday, the key to first person voice is consistency. If you’re randomly inserting your “in person” voice for the narrator’s you are going to be left with an inconsistent and artificial-sounding voice.
4. Still have to show not tell. We know that the cardinal sin of writing is telling rather than showing. But, in writing first person it can be so easy to ignore because you think: how would my character describe how she is feeling right now? Oh, well she’d say she is tired. So you write on the page, “I felt exhausted.” Or some derivative thereof. But no! We still can’t do that. She has to feel like she has five-pound rocks dangling from her eyelashes, or blocks of dried cement around her feet. We need to feel the weight of her exhaustion even if the character really would just say in her own head “I’m exhausted.”
5. Varying sentence structure. In first person, it’s hard not to write “I [verb]. I [verb]. I [verb].” And so on. That is what is most natural for the writer. But, a book with that kind of repetitive sentence structure isn’t exactly going to be a feast for the discerning reader. So, while you might be used to different types of sentences flowing easily from your fingertips, expect to have to make the effort when writing from the perspective of your MC.
*If you’d like to check out yesterday’s post on building fenceposts for your first person narrative, click here.