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Name Your Advice in Writing in the First Person P.O.V.


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Several months ago, I started a thread on your preferred writing point of view. As you read here, it was pretty even but a lot of people do like First Person PoV. I'm one of those that struggle with the first person perspective, and the vast majority of my work is in the head jumping style of Third Person PoV. So, those that like First Person, name your advice. How do you write in first person?

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I think it depends on the story i want to tell and the distance i want to keep. In Changes i wanted to share Louis' emotions and show Don's through Louis, if that makes sense. So first person was the best option.  In Out of His Mind, i wanted to be able to show Tait's and Phillip's story equally so i wrote it in 3rd. Levko was part of my real life, and i just couldn't write it in first, i needed to be farther away, i did not want to get inside Lev not like you do when you write in first person. 

 

So for me writing in first is about emotion, distance, and perspective.  I'm not sure how to explain how i do it, i just see the story through the Main character's eyes, not mine you understand, but theirs. 

 

I've heard and have been told that writing in first is the easy way. I don't agree, not every character i write in first is me, or the same as me, they are different people, with different likes and characteristics. 

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I'd say you have to keep the perspective of what perspective you choose to write from. Sounds like 'duh', but it's kind of hard to do.

 

In Third Person you, as the author, have the luxury of having 'God's' perspective. You are narrating a story outside of the characters but in a way that knows what they are thinking. You can do things like "Brian ran out of the Loft looking around frantically for Snowflake, but could not find him anywhere. Little did he know that Snowflake had already fled back to their apartment, collected his things, and caught the next flight out of town." You can show multiple perspectives all at once. You can 'show' your story like a movie.

 

In First Person you hae only ONE perspective you can work from: that of the character's only. In First Person you can't credibly 'know' anything going on with any of the other characters. What they are doing in secret, what they are thinking, their motivations for doing what they do. You, as the author, can only infer what might be going on with another character from the point of view of the character you are allowing to speak through you.

 

A good editor will bounce you if they see a place where your speaking character suddenly knows something he can't possibly know. Even if you are dealing with a mind reading entity you have to put limits on that power to make it believeable.

 

In order to make the above blurb believeable in First Person I had to write a lengthy description of how Brian felt and reacted to learning that the love of his life had just run out on him:

 

~~~

. . . You deserve better. I cannot be what you need. I am too jealous, too afraid, and too careless. What we had, as wonderful as it was, should not be.

 

    I can only poison you, my Brian. All who have tried to love me have ended in the same way. I do not want that for you. Please, be free of me.

 

    Find the one you were meant for. This I beg of you.

    Forget me.

 

    Lumihiutale

 

"Signore, please to share my bread, si? You no look so very good!" The Italian accented voice is old and it is kindly, but it sounds so very distant. It sounds like it comes from another dimension.

 

The dimension of the living.

 

"Grazie, Signora. Save it for yourself. I don't need it." I say hoarsely. I doubt she can believe me. I may very well need to eat. I haven't in about three days. I don't eat much anymore.

 

"Oh, but il mi giovane, I have more than plenty! You come my casa! I have make so good food! Anche, il miglior vino del Trentino e tale formaggio! Such will put the color back in your fair cheeks!" She is not what I typically think of as an Italian grandmother. No olive skin or black kerchiefs over her head. No Roman nose.

 

She has white hair, faded blue eyes and ice nipped pink cheeks on nearly transparent skin. She looks kind of German. She wears a fluffy dress with pale blue cross-hatching and lace. I'd never been to northern Italy before, so I had no idea what to expect. Everyone looks so pale and ghostly up here in these cold mountains. I should fit right in.

 

Not that I care, really. Nothing really matters anymore. This is as unreal as that night I chased him back to my condo and read for the first time this letter that I now have memorized, but still read at least 10 times a day. That's down from a month ago . . . when I was reading it 20 times a day.

 

I try to smell the paper still hoping that I can get some last trace of his scent there. But, I must have breathed it all up a long time ago. The little bits of finger oil and epithelial cells that were once in this paper have all been worn away by my constant fondling, I'm sure.

 

~~~

 

See. Not easy at all really.

 

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I think I said this before, but I find anything other than first person very difficult to write.  For me, I think of it as inhabiting the characters world, walking around in it, and experiencing it.  My stories tend to be about a specific person, and yes, to some extent, their relationships and what happens to them, but ultimately, it’s just about them.  There are obvious limitations though - unless they have a conversation or read something explicitly, they don’t know what is going on for other people with any certainty.  Yes, this mirrors reality, but from a creative perspective it’s  sometimes problematic too as I have to work a bit harder at getting to a particular point, or else give up and approach it differently.  Ultimately the answer is almost always the same, it’s about how people communicate (or not), which I happen to find fascinating anyway.

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To me personally, the best advice about writing in first person is... don't. lol

I have stuff I've written in first person that just makes me cringe thinking about.

 

Though I guess this is a personal preference. 

 

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I think it's just a matter of planning your story out in advance, and being aware of what your blind spots are, and what you want them to be.

 

I usually write in the first person, because I feel that it's more 'personal' in my opinion. You can really get into the mindset of your main character and focus on their experience alone, instead of 'scattering the shot' and telling more than one story at a time. Even with an ensemble cast of characters, first person allows you to concentrate on the feelings and emotions of one person, and really bring them out into the forefront for your readers to see. Plus, it leaves room for some really cool twists and surprises along the way, since the main character can be left in the dark about certain plot points while you're writing.

 

However, I have written some stories that I find a bit more challenging, but really NEEDED to be told in 3rd person in order for the story to work. Best example would be a story that I'm writing called "Skyline", which has a heavy sci-fi twist to it, but basically reads as a Comsie version of a disaster movie. This has a large ensemble of characters that aren't actually connected at first. They go to the same high school, but only connect through the tragedy befalling them all. The third person narrative was necessary for this one. No 'one' character could believably be interacting with everyone in this story. That just wouldn't work. With 3rd person, a writer can hide secrets or develop plot points that the 'readers' know about, but the characters don't. Which is a different thrill altogether if you can pull it off just right. So that was the way to go with that particular story, and I had a lot of fun with the transitions from one character story to another as they sort of 'passed each other in the hallway', but didn't know each other yet. I couldn't do that in 1st person. This was a cluster of different stories that just so happened to take place in close vicinity of one another. Third person is GREAT for that kind of storytelling!

 

So yeah, it really depends on what you want to do with the story, and which method you think is best to bring your ideas across in the right way. Either one might work for you, but which one would work BEST? That's the real question.

 

AND...hehehe, shameless promotion time! Check out the first chapters of "Skylight" if you all get a chance! LOL! Honestly, though...it's just so you know what the heck I'm talking about with the transition and multiple stories thing!

 

 

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I cringe at my stuff written in third. Only because I am comfortable writing in first. It will take practice and you're likely not going to enjoy first from third right out of the gate. Third allows for more... world adaptability as the writer is standing outside of the world they created. In first, you're trapped in the center of it and must endure those limitations brought on by being the central character surrounded by mysteries that it would be a 'flaw' in the story to know - the story is about figuring those out. Whether it be people, love interest, the inner struggles of the  main character, etc.

 

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Thanks, all. A lot of food for thought. Hopefully, we can get more writers to join in on this topic, and we can help each other out more.

On 1/31/2018 at 8:38 PM, Myr said:

To me personally, the best advice about writing in first person is... don't. lol

1

You're not the only one Myr. That's my advice as well. I really am horrible at First Person perspective.

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1st POV for me is easier on the basis that I'm a sucker for details--too much details. I try to steer away from 1st POV because it is my comfort zone. So most of my writing is based on 3rd POV which I think I'm okay now (It's readable).

 

The thing about 1st POV is the amount of personalization you can create with your narrator. 

 

"His nose crooked, withered in langour. His face, refracted, half-poignant, half-piqued, half-mettled, half-filled as he sprinkled the denouement with the cold Evian spritz. Just like a novel, his face is an exposition. We're now at the climax. He looked at me with eyes beetled with frustration; just as he was, he was over it. He was over the fact that getting his 4th Surgery after his dream of looking like his idol, James Dean, is long but over. I wonder if I should get a butt surgery. No! Stop it Daniel. Ryan likes the way you are. Or does he really? Is my second husband still sleeping with that gold digging assistant of his, I wonder. Even in my 3rd marriage with Ryan as a power couple in Manhattan, my face looked like it's been power drilled with exhaustion. Sure, I'm getting old. But at 50, no amount of money can ever replace the fact that I am loved by my employees and friends. Henny...no shade. But who cares about Ryan, he's just my 28 year old accessory. I wonder how much the bastard loves me. Off to getting a butt implant then."

 

And if I were to translate that to a 3rd POV...it's gonna sound like shite. Lmfao.

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All but #3 can really be applied to any point of view, but I find these 5 writing pet peeves especially jarring in first person. 

 

1) Know your body language. You cannot tell the reader a character other than your main character is angry, but you can show it. The same goes for any other emotion. I think bored, I see someone slouched in their chair lazily swinging one leg or staring off into the distance despite what's going on around them. I think apprehensive, I think of someone who takes short, quick glances and has their head ducked or shoulders slightly hunched. And so on. 

 

2) Plot out AHA moments in advance to foreshadow the events your character can't know but you need to share with readers. We catch conversations, see people do things, and then figure out what was actually being said or was happening later when we get more info all the time in real life. Trust readers to remember and put the pieces together.

 

3) Don't use words like "I felt" or "I thought" or "I considered" etc... in narration. You don't think to yourself that you are thinking to yourself, you just think about something. It's okay for the character to say it, but not to use it as the author. 

 

4) Don't narrate things a person wouldn't describe or notice in detail when they see it/live it every day.  It's just not realistic. "I got my cup of coffee, doctored black just like I like and have every morning." Do you think about stuff like that when you're getting food/drinks? Sights you see routinely on the way to work? The layout of your house when you walk in the front door? You shouldn't do, "I walk in the door and into the living room. My furniture crowds the small room, two couches and a chair more than I need, but the matching light oak coffee and end tables look good against the dark leather, etc...." But you can have your character bang their knee on the coffee table when they stumble over shoes they left in the narrow walkway between the couches, curse, and then stumble over and sit in the chair. Then they could pick up the remote from the end table, and curse again when they see a dark ring left on the pale wood from a careless beer left out the night before, etc..." 

 

5) Keeping in the same vein, don't introduce characters by their full names. My best friend is "nickname". I work with "So and So First name" but I always use "Mrs. Last Name" when I mention her to the kids. It wouldn't be believable for me to say: I walk into the school on Monday morning, tired already and say, "Hi So and So First Name and Last Name." That just isn't believable because that's not the way I speak in real life. Don't be tempted to always need to fully introduce your characters--wait for your moment when it can be worked believably into the plot. 

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1st person may take some getting used to if you're not used to it. I feel the same way about 3rd person, because I easily fall into old 1st person habits. I find myself running into a few obstacles as I try to flesh out a certain scene or two, and I find myself getting mixed up with my tense usage and the concept of what the characters would and wouldn't know about each other at that moment. So it's an adjustment, and takes practice before it feels 'natural', I suppose.

 

As a lot of you may know, my love for story and characters and writing in general came from comic books when I was little. Marvel and DC comics taught me everything. Weird, right? But I also think that was where my love for 1st person perspective came from. With comic books you got dialogue and visual cues, but you also got brief moments of narration, and you got 'thought bubbles' the let you know what the characters were thinking and feeling at all times. Which was something that appealed to me. Like...maybe Spider-Man is cracking jokes and beating up criminals...but in his head, he's thinking, "Holy cow, I almost got smashed a second ago! And innocent people can get hurt if I do the wrong thing. I've got to keep the bad guy busy until I can get everybody to safety." So you get to explore what's on the surface, but also see what's underneath it, simultaneously. Because what's on the surface isn't always the truth of the situation. I like being able to tackle that. It's fun. :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Speaking of aha moments, this thread just gave me one. 

 

According to my grammar, and my editor, I write in third person. I'd agree. But, and here's the epiphany. I do it as though I were in first person. I think it's an artifact from the origin story of my present writing style. 

 

What I mean is although the grammar is 3rd, as I'm sitting there writing, my stream of consciousness writes everything from the perspective of a single narrator. 

 

This comes to mind: "phenomenal  cosmic power, ity bity living space."

 

That's not to say I never break from that narrator, but when I do I do it completely. If I change heads, it's like changing channels. Completely independent.

 

Game of Thrones does what I'm talking about. Though, in a very much more refined form. And you fine folks haven't seen any of the works where I actually show another perspective. I did originally go on from "completely independent"and start talking about my own writing. Trying to build examples, and then I started talking about a massive cluster fuck of flawed  implementation. But then I realized, it was outside the scope of this thread, and I have a blog. 

 

So I'm going to take my  flowing river of babble and keep you all from the Splash Zone. This time. Don't get used to it. 

 

 It's too bad, I was on a roll. 

 

Edited by VampireMystic
Also, this gives me an idea on how to solve a problem I've been having. Thanks guys
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