Writing in First Person – Revisited

A long long time ago, I said I’d start writing solely in first person as my New Year’s resolution for 2011:

Based on feedback and my own instincts, I know character voice and reader empathy are weak points in my other stories. I’m just not going deep enough. And for a long time, I wasn’t sure what more I could do besides revising and reworking until the words blurred into nothingness. I made progress, yes, but it’s an arduous time-consuming process.

But now I think I know how to tackle this issue: by writing in the first person, even when I know I’ll revert back into 3rd person at some later stage of the project. By stripping away the artifice of she’s and he’s and making it all about me me me, I hope I’ll be able to strengthen my own engagement with my characters and up the emotional intensity and interest for my readers. (From First Person Works For Me)

Recently I received this comment from Motormind on that post:

And thought it was as good a time as any to revisit this and talk about this shift in my writing.

Yes, the writing in first person has worked quite well for me. I’m also writing a lot more… So it’s difficult to say whether experience hasn’t also had a hand in my improvements. But it’s also telling that the short stories I’ve sold so far, and have written since, have all been in first person.

I’m better able to get into my characters’ heads and get at the emotional content of the story that much faster thanks to writing in first person.

As to the second part of Motormind’s question about circling back to third person, I have a confession: I haven’t yet. Stories I’ve written in first person have stayed in first person. And the novel I’ve started since the original post is also in first person (and will stay that way).

I still have novel projects on the back burner written in third person, and will probably write in third-person again (else I’d cut out a lot of stories I could write), but I haven’t felt the need to yet. I will say the times I’ve gone back to tinker with the third person stories, it’s been easier to identify areas where there’s too much narrative distance or find opportunities for going deeper. It’s all anecdotal right now, but I think writing in first person has helped me a lot, even when writing third.

Happy writing (regardless of which POV you use)!
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5 thoughts on “Writing in First Person – Revisited

  1. Jen McConnel says:

    I really like first person. I've experimented with third person a few times (on my current project, even), and sometimes it fits…but my default is to make the story about “me”. Glad it's helped you find depth and connection with your characters!

  2. JEFritz says:

    I love first person too. When I first started writing, I was all third, but when I had a taste of first, I couldn't stop. But I'd definitely go back. Rewriting something in third person is an interesting idea. I wonder if I could make it work.

  3. Laura Marcella says:

    I mostly write in third person, but I do write in first person, too. It depends on the story and the character. I'll start out one way and realize something's not quite right and sometimes switching the POV does the trick!

    Good for you for sticking to your new year resolution!

  4. Laura Lee Nutt @LauraLeeNutt says:

    I recently had to switch from 3rd person to 1st, not because I struggle with 3rd, just because of the type of story. It was a bit awkward at first, but I'm getting used to it.

    I'd be curious to hear how trying to write in 3rd works out for you once you decide to try it again. Until then, I'm glad this technique is working for you. Good luck and great job on those short story sales!

  5. Sharon K. Mayhew says:

    An agent suggested I change a chapter book I wrote from third person to first person. I was terrified. I did it though and the story is much better now. I submitted it to one house and got a very personal rejection with some suggestions.

    The novel I'm working on is in first person. I love being in my mc's head….

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