Most Common Writing Mistakes: Is Your First-Person Narrator Overpowering Your Story?

Stories told by a first-person narrator (i.e., “I went to school today” vs. the third-person narrator “she went to school today”) are increasingly popular these days, particularly in YA fiction. But this is often a narrative perspective that’s tricky to get right. The first-person narrator, more than any other type of narrator, is inclined to lapse into self-centered telling, in which he overpowers the story, at the expense of the other characters and even the plot itself. Let’s take a look at some of the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Beginning every sentence with “I.”

The first-person narrator tempts writers into focusing on the narrating character to the exclusion of other subjective nouns. The result is a stultifying string of sentences that all feature the same subject. Mix and match subjects to electrify some life into your syntax.

Wrong: I fled down the stairs, heart pounding. I could hear the zombified giant clomping after me. Ahead, I could see the cellar door offering me the chance to escape and hide. I reached the door, wrenched it open, and dove inside.

Right: My heart pounded as I fled down the stairs. Behind me, the zombified giant clomped after me. Five feet ahead, the cellar door offered the chance to escape and hide. I reached the door, wrenched it open, and dove inside.

Telling thoughts instead of showing.

In the first-person narrative, everything you write is straight out of the main character’s brain. You don’t need to clarify the character’s thoughts by placing them in italics or qualifying them with an “I thought” tag.

Wrong: I couldn’t believe this was happening. Zombified giants don’t really exist, do they? I thought to myself. Maybe I’m dreaming.

Right: This couldn’t be happening. Zombified giants didn’t really exist, did they? Maybe I was dreaming.

Inserting lengthy narrative at the expense of action and dialogue.

First-person narration offers the temptation to share with readers everything the character is thinking. But beware of lengthy narrative rabbit trails when you should be allowing action and dialogue to carry the story.

Wrong: “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked.I heaved a sigh. Kirsten had no idea how insane my life had become. She had no idea that zombified giants—huge and ugly and stinky—were after me. [Insert lengthy description of zombified giants, narrator’s life, history of friendship with Kirsten, etc.]

Right: “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked.I heaved a sigh. “You have no idea how insane my life has become.” I threw my backpack into my locker, shot a surreptitious glance up and down the hallway, then leaned forward to whisper in her ear, “Zombies! Big ones!” [Insert witty, conflict-ridden dialogue that conveys the important information about zombified giants, narrator’s life, history of friendship with Kirsten, etc.]

Utilizing a first-person narrator can be an exciting way to create an immediate and intimate story readers won’t be able to turn away from. Make sure you aren’t stumbling over these common mistakes, and you’ll be more than ready to knock readers (and maybe some zombified giants as well) off their feet with your powerful narrative.

Tell me your opinion: Do you prefer writing in first-person or third-person?

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I prefer to write in the third-person viewpoint for a novel. I do not like books written in the first person because I get bored reading them after the first paragraph. I like the third-person narrator as the voice for the story, a narrator who mostly just sees what’s going on but every so often can get behind the eyeballs of the protagonist. That’s what I read, and that’s what I write.

    I suppose I could try to write a book in the first person. But my reaction to that is “but I wouldn’t like it very much.”

  2. For the most part, I prefer third-person as well. I wrote a short story in first, which I was very pleased with, and my current WIP features a few short scenes in first. But, generally, as a writer, I find third more versatile and less of a hassle. As a reader, I enjoy both, when they’re well written.

    • Keith Laughinghouse says:

      Help! I can’t find info on this. Here is my problem. I have been writing in first person. Now I am trying to write in third, but I have a issue. The narrator starts sounding like the main character. For example the main character is a nerd, and when he went out side, I’d say something like — Jason went out side and noticed that the night sky was gray, the color of a Klingon battleship. (Whatever)
      To me the narration is getting muddled. If I said that JASON thought that the sky was the color of a Klingon battleship, that would be fine, but what is the rule on the narrator talking and thinking like the character?

      • K.M. Weiland says:

        If you’re writing a tight third-person narration, then it’s going to sound very similar to a first-person narration, in the sense that most of the narration will reflect the character’s own thoughts and personalities. So you should be fine.

    • CrackedToast says:

      I just want to say that this was very helpful. thanks so much. I’m just 15 years old right now and I want to be a writer. this was beyoned helpful “help” thanks again!!!

  3. I’ve been thinking about using first person for the novel I’m about to start. This gives me a little more insight into some of the challenges that would entail. Thanks!

  4. Glad the post was timely! Have fun with that new story.

  5. Love the new layout!

    I have experimented with first person and have recently begun reading more books using it, but I prefer the freedom and scope third person offers.

  6. Personally, I enjoy writing in first person far more than third, as I find I can get deeper into the character’s thoughts, but I tend to use third person for my more “professional” stories. I am, however, going to attempt a novella in first person.

  7. I get turned off when writing first person, mainly because I am no good at it. I have a tendency to make the narrator’s voice sound “realistic,” and a realistic 12 year old is not a writer. Certain books I’ve read do this same thing and it turns me off to read “totally cool” in prose. However, there are a great deal of first person novels that I enjoy. So it CAN be done really well. Just not by me! 🙂

  8. @Miss Cole: Thanks! I don’t generally make a conscious choice, in my reading, between first and third. I’m reading a first-person narrative right now and didn’t even really think about the fact that it was written in first until this post went live this morning. Talk about a sign that it’s well written!

    @Eldra: I find it interesting that authors (myself included) find writing in first “deeper,” when, really, a deep third can be just as intimate and intense. In fact, it’s an interesting exercise to take a piece written in first person and switch all the pronouns to third person (or vice versa). Sometimes when I’ve having trouble getting into a third-person narrative, I’ll write a scene or two in first to find the voice, then switch it around.

    @Christine: Many beginning writers assume first-person is easier than third, just because it’s so intuitive. But it’s really the trickier of the two. Mastering it can take a lot of time and effort.

  9. Great analysis. So many books–even published ones–make the mistakes you’re talking about. I prefer writing in first person, because it helps me get more into the character, but as a reader, I have to admit I prefer reading third person limited. So I often write the 1st draft in 1st and rewrite in 3rd.

  10. Interesting that your writing and reading preferences are different. Perhaps because you write in first, it makes you hyper-aware of its problems when reading it?

  11. This is very informative. I’ll proceed to see the rest of the series. I too am writing in first person most of the time and it annoys me to no end how easy it is to make that mistake. I mean, talk about self-centered stories… But I guess it has its advantages too, so here’s to hoping my characters will improve in the future. 🙂

  12. The self-centered problem isn’t limited to the prose alone. First-person seems to push writers into the pitfall of *creating* self-centered characters. If we can pull the narrating character’s focus outward a little bit, away from himself, many of the prose tips I outlined in this post will fall into place that much more easily.

  13. I prefer third but I find first to be fun when I want to hide the other point of view. Sometimes need for my readers to figure it out along with the protagonist.

  14. Often, the more limited the POV, the more powerful the story – just because it concentrates all the emotion and action into the experience of one person. Multiple POVs are great for telling big, sprawling stories, but they definitely dilute the effect.

  15. It’s interesting, because first person is used a lot in YA, presumably because it “draws you into the story better.” While I like first person, using third person to draw readers into the MC’s mind is can be done, but it’s harder, and that’s why I prefer it. Third person allows for peeks into different characters’ minds, and provides a better understanding of the story as whole.

  16. Deep third varies very little from the first-person narrative. In essence, the author is writing a first-person narrative with third-person pronouns. It’s a sneaky trick that gives us the best of both worlds.

  17. So far all I’m really doing with my writing is just blogging about my everyday life with my family. Since I love writing as much as I do I try to keep my blog entries interesting rather than a boring online journal listing daily accomplishments or family trips. Your writing advice is very helpful to me even though I’m not writing a novel! I use first person narrative more than third person but I was excited to read this post and see that for the most part I’m not making the mistakes you pointed out. I can always improve of course.

  18. Yep, these first-person tips apply as much to blog posts, newspaper articles, and personal letters as they do to fiction. In this instance, good writing is good writing all the way across the board.

  19. LOL @ zombified giants. I recall reading somewhere that writing in the 1st person is best when the narrator has a strong, distinctive voice that adds to the story. Scout from “To Kill A Mocking Bird” comes to mind, and I am sure many of us can think of others. I’ve written in first and third person. I understand what people mean by preferring to move from character to character, but this has to be carefully structured like every other part of a novel. Not every third person view point needs to be completely omniscient.

  20. Good advice. It’s much easier to get away with a generic voice when writing in third-person. I was just reading something Hugo award-winner David Gerrold said about multiple first-person-narrator stories only working when each POV offered a distinctive voice – and, as we all know, that’s much easier said than done.

  21. I very much enjoy reading first person POV! I enjoy it for more fast paced books, especially with a large quantity of unknown. I don’t feel played with when details are witheld because the MC didn’t remember them either!(Unless they play a dastardly horrible and bad writer-ish trick and show the MC something they don’t me. =|)

  22. That’s a point worth bringing up. Within the limitations of POV – whether it’s first or third or omniscient – authors have to play fair. No whispers of “now, here’s the plan,” which then devolve into indecipherable mumbles!

  23. I prefer third person because I like to give the reader different opinions of events. However I wrote my first novel ‘Call me Aphrodite’ in the first person present tense. I found this very difficult to keep up but I enjoyed trying. The reason I did it this way was because the first draft was a diary but I didn’t like that so when I converted it to a novel it seemed obvious to keep it in the first person and use the present tense – I used first person past for a flashback. I’ll probably stick to third person in future.

  24. I wrote my WIP primarily in third-person present tense, with an opening and closing scene in first-person present tense. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’m very happy with the results. But I think I’ll be returning to third-person past tense for the foreseeable future, if only because it’s so much more flexible.

  25. I thought I preferred third-person, but after writing and slaving over my very first novel in that perspective I got sick to death of it and needed something new, a new challenge, or feeling. I agree with Stephen, some books can be obnoxious if written in first and they don’t do it well. But I have loved others, who do a great job and have an awesome voice. Any perspective can be bad or good depending on how well the author carries it.

    • I tried as an experiment with the first five chapters of my book. I had changed it from third person past tense to third person prest tense. It was a bad fit. Whew. It took m y brain a while to go back to the old narration too. Ouch!

      Lesson learned, save experiments for another book.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        I’m actually messing around with both 1st- and 3rd-person in my latest WIP, trying to decide which is appropriate. Will probably end up going back to 3rd.

        • Hope you find what one works best for lots of chapters are changed. I’m still fixing the mess that last change made.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Thanks! And looks like I’m going to keep it in third, so that makes everything easy!

          • That’s good. Easy? Oh that’s right you’ve written lots of them. It seams like there’s a never ending list of things to add in take out fix and correct. For new authors … phew, the learning curve is high!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Easy in that it’s already *in* third, so I don’t have to change it to first. But, in general, third is easier to write than first.

          • Typo: seems

            ^-^;;;

          • I found another helper in an effort to spot errors:

            Slick Write addon for Firefox browser.

            what it does:

            This extension makes it easier to proof your writing with the Slick Write web service. It works with WordPress, Google Docs, selections, and most text boxes.

            I like that it’s pretty good at spotting clunky words phrases. Some can’t be taken out for style choices but 90% of them can. Pretty good until I learn to spot them on my own.

  26. As a writer, I love experimenting with different styles. Every technique gives a story a new feel, a new voice. The trick, of course, is discovering which feel and voice is appropriate, and which aren’t.

  27. The same problem can show up in third person with heavy use of ‘she’ or ‘he’. It’s the first thing I look for now when I edit. My novel (currently still being written) is in 3rd person, however I have written a couple of 1st person short stories. Writing a novel in 1st person would be a huge challenge for me, because longer stories play like movies in my head.

  28. This is such a helpful post. My problem with writing in first is that I use too many “I’s” and way too much dialogue because the narrative feels too tell-y. I’m currently editing/writing a series that switches between first and third, which seems to be an easy transition so far since it just started out as more of an experimenting story.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    ~ Chy

  29. Definitely. These principles apply just as much to same problems in third-person narratives, although third person isn’t usually as inclined to falling into them.

  30. @J.C.: I’ve been fond of first and third combinations ever since Dickens introduced the idea in Bleak House. Sounds like fun!

  31. I don’t *think* it is. From what I’ve heard from prospective readers of my novel that using first person makes it more real and more intense. You tell me:
    http://gfanthome.wordpress.com/excerpts/

  32. If you’re getting good feedback from readers, chances are you’re doing things right. Good job!

  33. Matt W. says:

    I’m working on a novel in which the narrator is the son of the main character and is relating events of his father’s life while the narrator was still a child (he’s actually telling the story many years later). The narrator was present during some of the action, but otherwise is relying on what his father told him had happened. So there’s some element of the unreliable narrator in it. I find this way avoids much of the “I did this” and “I did that” first-person-style narration, but I’m afraid I’m not allowing the narrator to be a fully-realized character in the process. How can I avoid this problem?

  34. If you feel the character isn’t being fully realized on the page, the problem probably goes deeper than the narrative technique of avoiding too many “I’s.” You might find some solutions by delving deeper into the narrator’s mind. Are you showing what he’s thinking about events as they unfold? Is he sharing with readers what he’s feeling? The best way to characterize a narrator is to make sure every word he “says” is deeply colored by his own personality.

  35. I love writing in first person. Many people say, oh, it’s too difficult, you’re too restricted. Yep, that’s the challenge. Telling a compelling story within those limitations.

  36. Well said. Truthfully, the limitations – no matter the form – are what make writing so enjoyable. If it wasn’t a challenge, would we still find it so rewarding?

  37. TN Spears says:

    I know this is an old post but…I am writing in first person current and find it a major challenge. However my agent has informed me she loves my POV and could not see it writen any other way. Look at the Hunger Games trilogy and how easy it was to fall in love with Katniss? Yes you miss things, yes your book is constantly being sent back for re-writes by agent and editor alike but if done well the story is magical. However it is not for everyone as it is a daunting lover in deed. My current YA book is third person and wow how easy it has been to write and re-form. However working with two styles is another challenge in itself as you find yourself crossing over now and then. OOPS! I can say FP is not for everyone and I believe you need to LOVE your character and have a strong one of a kind story to tell or honestly don’t even try because you will flounder.

  38. A deep connection with our characters is important no matter what narrative viewpoint we use, but because of the immersive, intimate nature of first-person, you definitely want to choose a character whose mind you’ll enjoy spending that much time in.

  39. Anonymous says:

    If I were to write a story in the first person, would it be correct to loosley describe other characters feelings?

  40. Because first-person is the story as seen directly through the narrator’s eyes, you would only be able to describe other characters’ feelings as the narrator observes them.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I’m a walnut in a bowl of peanuts here. I love writing first person stories. It works for me mainly because I write weird fiction (atmospheric/picture of moods/ see “on writing” written by the famous author H.P. Lovecraft). I wish I could write really interesting characters but mood and message is my overall forte. Well, each of us is gifted in different ways. But I’m still young and who knows what the future holds.

  42. First-person stories are wonderful. Don’t feel like you *shouldn’t* be writing them. So long as you have a strong narrating character, you’re almost more likely to create a quicker, stronger connection with readers via 1st-person, rather than 3rd.

  43. I’ve subscribed to you posts for some months and find them very helpful, although I don’t manage to read/listen to all of them. This one is old but very relevant for me: I’ve started writing a historical novel (my first) in the first person, present tense – quite a challenge! Most people warn me against it, but you suggest it can work if I’m careful. Thanks for the encouragement. I have an extract at http://www.aquilaelba.info/trial-by-trek/. If you have the time, I’d really appreciate your comments as to whether or not you think it works.

  44. Glad you’re enjoying the post! Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t allow me to critique stories, but I do wish you all the best with your first-person narrative. So long as you’ve got a narrator with a great voice (and, of course, you avoid the pitfalls in this post!), you should have no problem.

  45. I prefer FIRST PERSON.
    I have my reasonable reasons

  46. The best reasons always are. 😉

  47. The short story I recently submitted to a contest here in Tucson was written in third person, even though it began as first person.

    I used the pronoun “he” to substitute the character’s name (he was nameless, and it was 2500 words or less for submission to the contest).

    This was a great post, as I’m currently working on a first person POV for two separate characters.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Depending on how deep a third-person narrator we’re using, sometimes we can just switch out the pronouns for first-person pronouns without needed to make any other substantial changes. Handy when it works out that way!

  48. Hi, I just started writing because I woke up on be fatty and had this supper brilliant idea. I’m using a first person narrative but I’m not that confident about it, tooused to writing in n essay form. I was wondering which of your books are written in first person narrative and if you can think of other books written in first person (other than books by Darren Shan) for me to refer to as a guide. Thanks, oh and love the tips!!

  49. I’m trying to write a novel in first -person my issue is I’m a screenplay writer and I’m so use to writing tons of dialogue. How does dialogue between two or more people work in first -person?

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Pretty much the same as it works in any other POV. The only real difference is that the narrator refers to his own dialogue with “I” tags: “I said,” “I shouted,” etc.

  50. Hi,

    I found this post while searching for information on first person narrating. My question is how do you prevent a 1st pers narrator from sounding as if they are narrating their own story? (Yes, I’m aware of how contradictory that sounds!) I’m writing in 1st pers past tense and want the narrative to sound immediate.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      To some extent, this effect is unavoidable – because, as you’ve noted, the character *is* narrating the story. You might want to play around with present tense. But even in past tense, the basic principles in this post will help you create a more active narrative that focuses as much on the action and the character’s surroundings, as the character himself.

  51. Thanks for this wonderful information. I Googled first person limited and I didn’t find much. I’ve been writing my first novel in first person limited, present tense. I’m still on my first draft. The more I write the more questions I have. Thanks for listing a few books that are written with this POV. I want to read some books written in the same POV to see what I can do to improve.

    I sometimes find it hard to make my sentences clear and concise. I find too many little words in some sentences and when I try to rewrite them I end up in a different point of view or tense, which won’t work. I’m not sure if it’s that I’m a novice or if it’s the style.

    Do you have any tips for making sentences clearer using first person. Is it the same for all POV’s?

    I’m sure I’m using the correct POV for my story, I can’t imagine telling it any other way. The instructor in my creative writing group continues to give me positive comments. She says I need to get rid of the little “fleas” in my sentences – not sure what that really means, but I think it refers to the little words that drag down the sentence. Maybe it’s the use of weak verbs. (one of the students makes comments like this isn’t a common POV and very few people can pull it off… but keep on working at it she says – it brings down what little confidence I have)
    So now I’m rattling and not even sure if my question is clear. Thank you for sharing you knowledge.

  52. Very useful – I’m currently writing a rather large fantasy space-opera in first person.

    I’ve re-read my current work and noticed a few too many “I ” and have re-written them to be more acceptable.

    Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      First-person can a tremendously exciting POV, as long we keep it versatile in our phrasing. Have fun!

  53. When I create a First Person novel with a touch of Dystopia, it’s so confusing using Italic. What does Italic letters affect your story? And… what’s the difference between characters thoughts with characters thoughts with Italic letters. It means a lot to me but I can’t define very much. Help me @KMWeiland Thanks for sharing this.

  54. Thanks for this article!
    Can you explain how to use time lapses in present and past tense?
    I’m writing a present tense romantic novel (simultaneously writing in past tense too). So, can I skip days or months in present tense novel and directly start the story from next event?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, you can skip time whenever necessary. Just make sure to orient readers in the change.

  55. Andrew says:

    “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked

    If it’s 1st person we’re discussing, shouldn’t it be:
    “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asks

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Actually, what you’re differentiating between here is past tense (asked) vs. present tense (asks). You can use both past and present with both third-person and first-person.

  56. Catherine H. says:

    I prefer third-person when writing, but I do love the challenge of writing a first-person story. Great advice!

  57. I prefer first person present tense. I think it’s more intimate and engaging.

  58. This website claims it has 6 tips, but it only has 3. False advertising

  59. A.Alexander says:

    Hello. I stumbled upon this article while searching for information about time lapses, but since I am writing my story in first person, I figured I’d respond to this. I don’t have any problem with the first and third mistakes you pointed out, but I do use the second mistake throughout my writing (though I never considered it a mistake). I am writing about my life, so my story covers from birth until five years ago ( I am almost 38 now). I use italics to separate my actual personal thoughts in that moment in time from the overall recounting of the story. As the narrator, I have knowledge about the overall scene – past, present, and future, but as the character in the story, I only know that moment and some of the past, so I feel like showing specific thoughts in italics helps the reader to understand the difference between what I know now as I look back and recount the story and what I knew then as it was happening. Have you seen this accomplished in other books without the italic thoughts?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re basically using “present you” as a distant first-person narrator who is looking back and telling the story of “past you,” who is the main character. This is a technique we don’t see a whole lot and definitely one that requires some specialized techniques. As such, I think you’ve probably made the right choice to allow “past you” to have direct thoughts separated from “present you’s” overall narrative.

      • A.Alexander says:

        I wasn’t expecting so quick of a response! Though I have been writing since I was six, this will be my first published work and I worry way too much about it not being “perfect”! Yes, I am writing as a “present me” describing the events of the “past me”, and that’s why I wanted to find out if the tip about italic thoughts still applied to this type of story. Thanks for your response.

  60. Thanks for the great article, I am writing my first novel in first person because I really want the reader to feel like they are right there in the situation this has been incredibly helpful to me thank you for sharing your knowledge .

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      First person is arguably the most intimate of all the narrative voices, so it’s definitely a good choice for pulling readers deeply into the narrator’s psyche. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  61. Thank you very much for this thorough article on first person POV.
    Third person is best for most genre novels, of course.

    I have found that some exceptional writing situations work better with first person, such as, if you will, the personal battlefield experiencesa of a soldier.
    Recounting his unique experiences and insights, becomes a candid report of what really occurred.
    The battlefield account written in third person might have less “skin in the fight”.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Definitely. Intimacy is the chief benefit of first-person. In some stories, that’s not necessarily a good thing. But in those where it is, first-person can bring a lot of power to the table.

  62. Hello,
    I have an issue..How to difference the reader and the character in my writing…I mean,directing the reader in the first paragraph as “you” because I want the reader to relate with my writing and then the character also as “you,”.the biggest part of the writing im addressing to my character ,so it would be better to change the first paragraph and the last one into first person narration or the body of the writing in third person prospective or any other suggestion.Thanks in advance!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Second-person (which uses the pronoun “you”) is a very tricky POV and one to be approached only with careful forethought. Personally, I would recommend avoiding it and sticking with first-person. There’s rarely a good reason to break the fourth wall and directly address the readers.

  63. Hello. I’ve been having a hard time with figuring out how with first person you would use dialogue. For example would it be;

    “Can I help you?” he asks moody and voice raspy from sleep.

    There was something we can both agree on. We were both not morning people, we like to have our sleep. We’re are not happy campers when we are woken or disturbed when in the middle of it.

    “Did you just fall on the floor?” I try to hold in my laugh.

    His eyes narrow, which confirms what I suspected.

    “Get ready we got to be at school soon, in case you forgot such a thing does still exist”

    He rubs his eyes, glaring at me even more and I give him a wide smile.

    Or would it be something like this;

    “Can I help you?” he asked moody and voice raspy from sleep.

    There was something we can both agree on. We were both not morning people, we liked to have our sleep. We are not happy campers when we are woken or disturbed when in the middle of it.

    “Did you just fall on the floor?” I tried to hold in my laugh.

    His eyes narrow, which confirms what I suspected.

    “Get ready we got to be at school soon, in case you forgot such a thing does still exist”

    He rubs his eyes, glaring at me even more and I give him a wide smile.

    I’m having a hard time figuring out if it should be proper to use “Ask or Asked” or things like “She said or She says” while in first person. Or would they both be correct if used in the right context? Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The difference you’re presenting here is between past tense (asked) and present tense (asks). This actually has nothing to do with first-person. You can use either past or present with either first-person or third-person. It really just depends on how much immediacy you’re trying to create. With first-person, present tense usually creates *more* immediacy; with third-person, present tense actually creates more distance. Neither choice is wrong. Just make sure you’re consistent with it.

  64. I love writing stories, I too also normally write third-person but have now started writing first-person. It was going really well until I wanted to add my other male main character having a conversation to a few other characters after my main female had left the room. but I have no idea how to do that as the story is meant to be in the eyes of my main female character.
    Any advice on how I could achieve this?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Unless you’re going to be using the male main character’s POV *throughout* the story, I would recommend sticking solely to the female’s perspective. Inserting a one-time POV just for the sake of one scene usually isn’t worth the drawbacks of a scattered narrative. You can find other ways to share the same information, including having the female character learn about it later. Remember: readers very rarely *need* to know information the main character herself doesn’t know. It’s usually best to allow the readers’ progression of understanding to evolve at the same rate as your protagonist’s.

      • Thank you for the advice 🙂 I have been writing this story since High school and just want to finally have it finished. I was able to at the age of 11 have a poem published through winning a competition so it gave me the confidence to write more 🙂

        How would I go about getting someone to prof read what I have already wrote and give pointers on what could be changed?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          You can find beta readers online–through writing forums or social media. If you can find others who are writing in your genre, just offer to trade critiques. Most writers are just as eager to find a beta reader as you are!

  65. I had a couple of questions:
    1) How do I show actions that the first person POV character does? Example I want to say that the first person POV walks from his bathroom to the bed. Now a normal person doesn’t think about it consciously while doing so. Let the position of the person is important to the scene.
    2) How do I introduce characters and conversations with other characters?
    3) Is it a huge red flag if I switch POV between chapters?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Think of the narrative as if the 1st-person narrator were *telling* the story to the readers. As such, it makes perfect sense for the narrator to describe her own necessary movements.

      Same with conversations. Let the narrator introduce them, just as you would in a third-person narrative.

      As long as you’re consistent with your POVs (i.e., you introduce them all early and use them at regular intervals throughout the story), it’s fine to switch between first-person POVs or between a first-person and a third-person POV. Just make sure the narrative voices are differentiated and readers are always clear whose POV they’re in.

  66. Help is this First person okay? Please reply ASAP!

    Everything is so bare, not that it should surprise me I’ve moved 8 times in the 15 years I’ve been alive. I shamble along the downstairs looking through the kitchen for forgotten items, found none. I go on to the soon to be living room, which was like the rest of the house grey, old with cracking walls. I then peaked in the bathroom, just glanced at the dining area, and checked the closet under the stairs out finding empty boxes in it. I move towards the stairs. Down or up? UP. There is no question to be answered I hate basements. No matter if they are cool they scare me. Not to mention they make me feel more claustrophobic then I usually do in a regular room. I wander aimlessly through the second floor. I look in all the rooms, but seeing none I really want. I find another set of stairs going up. I wonder what’s up there. I climb the stairs slowly clasping my hands so tightly I think I am losing circulation. Opening the door is hard. It finally jostle open. It is my dream room with windows on all sides, a bathroom, and a walk in closet. It is a little smaller than the master bedroom which no doubt my parents would take. Its wall are old grey and crack also like the rest of the rooms, but I knew it has to be mine.

  67. Rick Alvarado says:

    First person gives me the chance to become someone else. Writing becomes a performance, like an actor using words. You see actors like Meryl Streep, and they seem like they can transform into anyone. That’s first person to me, as you develop a voice for the character, you discover who he is, in a much more personal way. I find that fascinating. As a reader, I really don’t mind. But as a writer, my preference is obvious.

  68. Joe Long says:

    This is an old post, but you sent me the link and people are still leaving comments so here goes –

    When reading, I don’t think I have a preference between first or third, but when I started writing I was much more comfortable with first person past. Recently I read the first chapter in a preview of “The Hunger Games” and the present tense really threw me off, making it hard for me to follow along.

    My story is heavily based on my own experiences, so it seemed natural to use first person. I really was I, allowing me to step into the part as the main character and narrator. Recently I’ve come up with another story idea that has nothing to do with my personal experiences, and I reckon it will be much easier for me to do that in third person.

  69. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve always been fond of writing in 1st person POV. Eventually, I’d like to try my hand at writing in 3rd person, but it’s a beast I won’t take on until my current WIP is complete. I love reading your posts. Keep them coming!

  70. Ms. Albina says:

    K.M., I am a ya writer. I use third person when writing and first person when the character speaks in POV. My co-author has merfolk or mer-people, elves, humans, shape shifters, gods-human or mer, and also dwarfs. I have no vampire or werewolves. I am getting tired of those books like in the twilights series. Enough all ready. The characters live on a fictional planet. Yes, it edit, revise, and edit again so the book becomes published. What writing program do you use and is it hard to use?

  71. I am seeing a new mistake that beginning writers are making in the Wattpad.com writing site and even in Amazon. This is taken from the “Introduction” chapter of a new writer that has asked me to look at their book:

    Just a few things to help while reading.

    Certain images will appear at points in the story
    to show a change in time line or place or POV

    A row of XxxxxxxX = time line or location.

    A row of = (magnafying glasses)change of POV + Location.

    A row of (paper icons)= POV.

    I did this while proof reading for plot and spelling
    I got just a little lost. I hope this helps.
    Made it a little easier for myself.

    If you have a better idea after reading.
    Let me know.
    As always enjoy

    I’m trying to explain to him that this isn’t making things different in a good way, but that he is telling not showing and needs to work these things into his prose. So if you get the chance please add this problem to this page. Here is a screen shot of the chapter:

    http://oi64.tinypic.com/110iypz.jpg

    Yiii! this is the wrong way to try and make a story different. In my option it just makers them as a complete newbie.

  72. Dang it still has typos, sorry about that: *This, *makes

  73. No wait, not makes: marks.

  74. A beta reader referred me to this column because she doesn’t like my use of italics for interior thoughts. I’m writing in first person POV because my protagonist lives in her head, is self-centered, lies often, and seldom says what she really thinks.

    For an example using Leave It to Beaver character Eddie Haskell’s POV:

    “Gee that is a nice dress you have on, Mrs. Cleaver.” [i]It looks like the drapes my mother threw out. [/i]

    “Why thank you, Eddie,” said Mrs. Cleaver. “It was nice of you to notice.”

    To me, rewriting internal dialog interspersed with dialog into past tense like the narrative takes you out of the moment. What do you recommend for internal dialog that happens during conversations?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I gotta back up your beta reader on this one. When you’re creating a deep narrative in which every single word is essentially being told by the narrating character, there’s no reason to pull readers out of their intimate narrative to point out which thoughts are *really* that character’s thoughts. It’s actually much more disruptive to interrupt the past-tense narrative with present-tense thoughts, rather than the other way around.

  75. What about if your first person narration is supposed to be the main character telling a story of what happened to him when he was younger?

    “I must have drifted off to sleep after that because the next thing I rememebered was waking up in a sweat at 2am. I had been having another dream about the man in black. This time I was in my own bedroom. He was just standing in the corner staring at me again. I was on my bed terrified. ”

    I know that doesn’t sound very good. I see what you mean about too many I’s. But this is him telling his story, so don’t I have to use I a lot?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This approach is tricky (although doable), since you have to basically create a framing device that uses the older narrator only occasionally, but still allows the story to be told in a more immediate tense (dropping all those extra hads and haves for the most part). Honestly, my first instinct would be to either drop the “future self” narrator or use him only as a brief frame in a prologue and epilogue. The big pitfall is that his presence risks distancing readers too much from the immediacy of the main narrative.

      • This reminds me of “The Catcher in the Rye” (have you read it yet?) in which the first person narrator partially describes his predicament, says, “Now let me tell you about my story…” then doesn’t return to the present “and here I am…” until the last couple pages.

        It’s how he jumped from the end of the story to the epilogue that still has me wondering why after 60 years I can’t find anyone else who shares my interpretation.

  76. I think I write better in first person as I need the emotion to come across and find it easier that way…but I have other characters in my story that I would like to be independent from the main so what would I use for them :/ please help I’m very new at this

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I recommend practicing writing in various POVs. It’s a great exercise to stretch your skills and teach to explore different characters’ voices. If it helps, you can think of deep third-person as basically first-person–just with different pronouns.

  77. I am extremely conflicted. I have been researching differences between first person and third person limited, trying to figure out which narrative is going to be able to convey my characters thoughts, feelings and experiences in the moment.
    As the writer and creator of these characters I already know what they’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing in the moment, in flashbacks, etc. and it’s important to story that I am able to intimately convey to my readers not just one character’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences- their past, their present, etc. but that of two characters, as they are both equally essential.
    I’ve read books where sections are separated by a character’s name instead of a ‘chapter’ heading, letting the reader know who’s POV we’re now reading from. I’ve also read books where a scene is told from one POV, only to later be retold by another POV, revealing things unknown by the first POV, deepening the story.
    When watching a scene in a film with two characters, the viewer knows what’s happening with both characters simultaneously thanks to facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, etc.; the viewer receives all of this information at once. I can visualize these scenes in my mind, and again, because I’m writing them, I already know what the characters are feeling, thinking, and experiencing, but I need to be able to successfully and fluidly translate both POVs, so that the reader can connect to both. Writing from first person allows the writer to become that person just as playing a role in a production, and I’m basically trying to play two roles. It is imperative the reader feel both characters; without both the translation is lost. But at the same time, writing from third person limited is more natural for me and also allows me to write about supporting and minor characters. Though, I suppose I can still write about other characters in first person, but from said person’s POV. However, the reader doesn’t know if what they’re reading is an opinion or fact. There must be a way to seamlessly execute first person AND third person limited together. I apologize for the article, as you may have noticed, I am quite overwhelmed. :/

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      There is. 🙂 The traditional of intermingling first- and third-person POVs goes all the way back to Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.

  78. Brian Nielsen says:

    I really enjoy writing in first person. This perspective allows me to release or enhance emotion in many ways and proves to be a clean re readable product. Often frustration overcomes my love for creating on paper hence why I arrived at this beautiful explanation of first person narrative writing which has cleared up quite a bit of my fog. Thanks.
    -infinite peace, love and balance.
    – a free bird

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