When writing a novel or short story, most authors use either third person or first person perspective. Third person (where the reader is omnipotent, seeing all of the action from all points of view) is a great way to give the reader a lot of information, and it allows you to expand your storyline. However, first person perspective (writing only from one character’s point of view, seeing only what they see, knowing only what they know) is a great way to endear the reader, drawing them into the character’s head and into their world.
When I write fiction, I often find myself trying to write in first person first. The words always seem to flow better for me, almost as if I’m speaking the story in my head as I write. First person also allows you to be more personal with your writing, using language that suits your writing style better. If you’re like me and enjoy writing in first person, check out the following tips on how to use the first person perspective in a more effective and efficient way.
1. Read Your Story Out Loud
This is a helpful hint for any type of writing, but it’s particularly helpful when writing in first person. This is because, as you’re writing from inside the character’s head, you need to keep a close eye on whether the narrative makes sense to the reader. When writing in third person, reading your story out loud helps to check for the cadence and feel of the writing, but in first person, it also helps to see if it sounds like something someone would actually think or say to themselves. Are the emotions appropriate for the setting, is the character focusing on what they should be at that moment?
2. Try Not to Give Too Much Detail
Just as you experience your everyday world without paying attention to every small detail, so does your character. For instance, as you’re reading this article, there is a lot going on around you. You may be in a room with people, there may be background noise taking place, etc. You filter these things out in order to concentrate on the task at hand. So will your character as they navigate their world. So if your character walks into a room, he may notice things like the ticking of the clock or a tear in the fabric of a couch, but his brain will simply register the information and refocus on whatever he came in the room to do. Unless it has a central point within the story’s plot, your character would not be detailing everything in the room. This goes for all writing; don’t go overboard with details.
3. Keep Your Tense Consistent
Part of writing in first person is keeping the reader in the character’s world. In order to do that, the writer needs to remain consistent with, and keep up with, the tense they use with verbs and adverbs. If the character is talking about something going on right now, in this moment, they would be using present tense (I “am” walking to the store right now.) If they are talking about something that previously happened, they would be using past tense (I “walked” to the store yesterday.) Try not to mix these tenses up, as it may confuse the reader. It can get tricky, as we tend to use various tenses when we speak to each other face to face, but remember, your character is not there with the reader to clear up any misunderstandings, it’s best to keep a vigilant eye on consistency.
4. Don’t Overuse “I”
Too many times, I read young writers’ work done in first person and what tears their story to shreds is the overuse of the word “I.” Your character would indeed refer to himself as “I” when thinking or speaking about himself, but your job as an author is to keep the reader’s attention, to mix things up, to entertain. If you write a paragraph that reads like, “I walked to the store earlier. I went inside. I felt uneasy. I forgot why I went to the store,” your reader will tire easily. But, you can spice things up by writing, “I walked to the store earlier, entering through the sliding doors. Unease washed over me upon realizing my purpose for the trip was lost, confusion now setting in.” Try to find creative ways to have your character speak without using “I.”
5. Try to Write the Same Passage in Third Person
When I get stuck in a section using the first person perspective, often times, I will try to write the same passage in third person. What this does is change the way you’re viewing the scene and can help to break you out of your slump. This can be a powerful tool in writing in general, as you imagine the scene from another person’s point of view. When I do this, I can usually find some detail that’s lacking or a plot point that I overlooked.
Overall, your choice of perspective is entirely up to you and what you’re comfortable with. First person perspective gives the reader a more intimate knowledge of your character and can allow you to hook people into your story in a way that third person perspective doesn’t always allow. Never be afraid to experiment and remember you can always edit later, so have fun!