Adite Banerjie | Paromita Goswami | Preethi Venugopala | Reet Singh | Ruchi Singh | Saiswaroopa Iyer | Sudesna Ghosh
F for First Person Narration
An overview over first person narration
1st person narration refers to a way of storytelling that uses the point of view of the main character (MC). It’s easily identifiable by the personal pronoun “I”. Basically, the story is told from the MC’s point of view, often in real time as it happens as the so-called first person protagonist, sometimes as a retelling as if the reader were listening to an actual person’s tale. Rarer is the use of first person witness narration where the “I” isn’t the MC but someone who’s witnessed the story and is retelling it. Off and on, an author will use “we” as a collective first person of connected people (such as friends or siblings) who tell the story.
Nowadays, some authors use both 1st and 3rd person narration combined within one novel, especially in the romance genre. The 1st person is usually reserved for the heroine who tells things from her point of view; the 3rd person is used for whatever scenes involve only the hero and are seen from his POV. A popular example for this narration style that helps overcome some of the first person narration’s disadvantages is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Some famous books told in 1st person only are The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. These examples answer an important question: Why do authors use first person narration? This mode of storytelling makes it easier to identify with the MC, to “feel in their shoes” and live through the unfolding action. It provides an intimacy and affinity with the protagonist that is an advantage especially when a woman’s suffering or a young person’s changing life are the topic of the novel. The readers are inside the protagonist’s head or even sometimes feel as if they’re sharing a secret.
The pros of 1st person narration:
- The character and story feel more real and relatable, especially to younger readers.
- There’s one clearly identifiable hero/heroine with his/her motivations and actions driving the plot.
- It helps with character development as the author has to pay attention to details, find the right voice and even express the MC’s thoughts and feelings.
- Budding writers might find this easier to write or to get into their protagonist’s head to outline the plot. After all, everyone has at one point in their lives told someone else a ‘story’.
The cons of 1st person narration:
- There’s a high risk of too much telling and not enough showing. It’s easy for authors to fall into the trap of simply going, “First X happened, then Y happened, and after that I spent my day like this, this, and this”, which quickly gets boring or reads woodenly. Let me write up an example: One could write, “I heard a loud boom and ran to investigate it. When I turned the corner, I realized that I had forgotten to take a weapon with me. I would be helpless if somebody attacked me.” Doesn’t really catch your attention, does it? This more natural and personal way to use 1st person narration is more gripping: “Boom! I flinched. What was that noise? I should probably go and check. My shaky legs hadn’t carried me far before they faltered. Oh no, I didn’t bring a weapon to defend myself!”
- First person narration is considered somewhat more ‘amateur’ and less sophisticated by some authors and readers who are less open-minded. It carries a connotation of fanfiction, of diary entries and first attempts at storytelling or of hastily self-published fiction. That, however, shouldn’t deter an author from trying out this style.
- Unlike 3rd person, 1st person limits the author to one thread of the story and one POV. That can make it difficult to present a bigger problem or create a complex world such as in fantasy or dystopian novels. Descriptions (especially of the narrator or of places) and providing background information can get tricky. 1st person narration may narrow the experience or sound biased.
How about you? Readers, what do you think of books narrated in the first person? Writers, have you ever experimented with this storytelling mode? Comment below.