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!