Posted in Writing, Writing: Help

Character Voice and First Person Point of View

I’m a fan of first person narrative. I love reading it, and I love writing it, and thankfully it’s pretty common in my favorite genre (YA). There’s something so immediate about first person narrative that lets you slip into a character’s head better than third person, to picture the action from his or her point of view. Through one character’s eyes, you go on an adventure you’d probably never get to experience, you get romanced (sometimes~) and, in YA at least, are free to regress to a younger age when you were just getting used to the unfairness of the world (and overreacting to it), and you viewed things through a not-yet-adult-no-longer-a-child point of view.

I love writing when first person voice is unreliable especially. As the writer, you know your character isn’t seeing things as they truly are, but it’s fine manipulating the reader into seeing things from the skewed point of view, only to turn it on its head later.

My only problem as a writer of first person perhaps? Learning to give each narrative voice its own flavor. So far I have one completed manuscript in first person and two works in progress in first person—the newest will actually have four different first persons at that. I know, I’m crazy, but that’s the story I want to tell. (My other two works in progress are in third person and I’ve yet to become as attached to them, perhaps because I don’t feel as immersed in them.) I’ve seen multiple points of view first person done well (among them, one I’ve beta read and hope you all see someday), and I think I can come up with some strategies for trying to make each voice different. (We’ll see if others agree I’ve done a decent job distinguishing them, since I’ve yet to share more than one first person narrative with a single human being… My cat, though, she’s seen them while getting fur all over my laptop screen.):

  • Try to figure out who the narrator is before you start writing. What makes him or her different from the other characters you’ve written before? What are their strengths, and what are their weaknesses?
  • How would you write dialogue for this character? Chances are, you “get inside the heads” of dozens of characters all the time anyway when they speak to your narrator. This time you just have to think of how the new character would describe everything unfolding in the room.
  • How are they unreliable? Everyone is, to a certain extent. Figure out the “truth” of the scene, and then figure out how the character would interpret that truth. How would they describe a scene in a different way than the last character from whose point of view you wrote?
  • Don’t go overboard with the voice differences. Having one character drop the “g” off of “ings” seems like a good idea to remind the reader that this is Character B speaking, not Character A, but it’s really just distracting. If Character A is serious and Character B takes everything as a joke, there are ways to express that better than speech differences, like smarmy commentary.

What other tips and strategies do you have for writing different first person points of views? Share them with me!

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Author:

YA author of THE NEVER VEIL SERIES (NOBODY'S GODDESS, NOBODY'S LADY, NOBODY'S PAWN), FALL FAR FROM THE TREE, BALLAD OF THE BEANSTALK, JOSIE'S COAT, and DROWNED SILENCE.

4 thoughts on “Character Voice and First Person Point of View

  1. I’m warming up to first person. I used to get annoyed looking through the bookstore and not being able to find YA WITHOUT 1st person. I actually find it easier to write in, so I’m starting to really like it. But my first book was 3rd person and the one I’m working on now is as well. Next one I’m planning for first, because there’s more romance. I think romance is about a billion times better in 1st. 🙂

    1. Yay, a convert! I know what you mean about getting tired of trends, but if you think about it, third-person has been a “trend” for hundreds of years. Time for first person’s reign! ^^ (And yes, to the romance in first person!)

      That said, I’d still love to finish my third person narratives someday. One of them actually makes a lot of sense in third person because my characters will know things I don’t want the reader to know!

  2. I usually write first person for longer works and third person for short stories. First person point if view is very common in the mystery/thriller genre so I think it’s natural that I mostly use first person. Great post. It helped me put this topic into perspective.

    1. Glad to be of service! I haven’t read many mystery or thriller books. I’m glad to hear that first person is common in other genres besides YA. It seems like most adult books I pick up are third person. (Not that I dislike third person, I just prefer first.)

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