I can’t write first person POV

I find it interesting that most new writers supposedly write in first person point of view, because that’s the point of view I tend to struggle with the most.  Even the short story I wrote where the author is very much a character in the story uses third person.

Unfortunately, I have a story percolating in my brain that is begging to be told in first person.  I’m going to have to write it that way, but I’ve been delaying putting words to paper, because I know that writing this story will require more skill and control than writing third person.

So, why do I think writing in first person is so much more challenging?

First, I think if you write in first person you have to nail the character voice.  It can’t be the author’s voice.  Whereas if I’m writing a very tight third person limited I can be sitting right there in a character’s head sharing their thoughts, but still using some of my vocabulary and wording.  But if my main character is a ten-year old kid and I’m writing in first person, I should have the story sound like it’s being told by that kid.  That’s hard to do.

Second, when I write in first person I tend towards present tense.  “He’s waiting for me as I walk into the room” as opposed to “He was waiting for me as I walked into the room.”  I have a strong preference for writing in past tense, but when I write first person it just naturally comes out present tense.  I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately and have had to stop a few times to figure out what about a story was annoying me.  Usually it was that the story was in present tense.

(There’s no rule that says you can’t write in present tense, and there’s plenty of it out there, but I prefer past tense.  And I just did a random check of my book shelf here and all four of the books I pulled down that were in first person were in past tense.)

Third, I find it harder to filter a story when I’m writing in first person.  As an objective narrator writing in third person I share my character’s thoughts when I think they need sharing.  But when I’m writing in first person I struggle with sharing only the pertinent thoughts.

It’s similar to the “don’t write accurate dialogue” issue I discussed before.  You can’t write in first person and share all the random branching thoughts that actually pass through a character’s mind.  (Well, you could.  You can do anything.  But chances are no one else will want to read it.)  So, good first person is actually a filtered first person that stays with the story.  I struggle between being the character and writing the character (if that makes any sense).

I guess the only thing to do is write this story the way it wants to be written.  And, if I fail miserably at writing it in first person, then I’ll rewrite it in limited third.  But I really do think some characters demand to be heard and this young lady happens to be one, so I’ll give her a shot and see how it comes out.  And if you’re not stretching yourself as a writer, then you’re not learning, right?

Perhaps this is a good time to revisit those POV chapters in Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin.  (Do you realize it just occurred to me that hers is one of the writing craft books I have and that I hadn’t connected that to her blog entries.  I’m slow sometimes.  Anyway.  Good writing book.  Great writing exercises.  Check it out if you haven’t already.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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2 Responses to I can’t write first person POV

  1. lynxchild says:

    I actually have a lot of trouble with writing in first person for anything longer than a short story. It seems to turn into “I did this. Then I did this. Then I went here.” It ends up sounded more like a diary than a novel.

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