So you can read my books

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Is "FIRST PERSON" the last person you need?

I recently read a writing teacher rail against first person.

To her ...  Instead of seeing what the author sees, she is forced to watch the author "seeing" it;

Instead of being permitted to react in her own way to the images presented,

She was forced to share the author's reactions. In short, the author can't get out of the way.

The author is standing between the reader and the image or experience the author seeks to convey.

To me, the reader learns a great deal about the character by what the narrator sees and how he sees it,
by what feelings are evoked by images and objects ... and why.

Take this scene from FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE
as Father Renfield and Samuel McCord step out
onto the Katrina-flooded street by his jazz club:

No wonder Renfield was shaken.  I looked at the battered club fronts, the boarded windows, the two-by-four’s driven like crude knives into the very mortar of the buildings, and the crumpled remains of people’s lives floating down the flooded streets.  It was eerie.  The utter blackness of a once bright street.  The deep quiet of a mortally wounded city. 
Renfield bent down and picked up a floating child’s doll, its false hair soaked and hanging.  Its glassy eyes eerily reminded me of too many human corpses I had seen floating down this same street.  Renfield stroked the plastic cheek softly as if it had been the flesh of the girl who had lost her doll.  Closing his eyes, he dropped the doll with a splash that sounded much too loud.
          That splash said it all.  The world had always been dangerous and full of fear.  It had only been the lights and the illusion of civilization that had kept it at bay.  But the world was patient.  It knew its time would come sooner or later.  And in the gamble called life, the House always wins.  Renfield looked my way with eyes that clawed at me and smiled as if his lips were an open wound.
          “Perhaps that doll will find the spirit of the child who lost it.”
          “You and I have seen stranger things, Padre.”
            He nodded.  “Yes.  Yes, we have.  I will choose to think the child’s ghost reunited with her doll.”
          The thought seemed to give Renfield some small measure of peace.  I think Lincoln had it right: we have the peace we choose to have.
The same writing teacher posted:
"First person is the one most often poorly done among new writers.

If the writer isn’t careful, the story can degenerate into a kind of monologue that fails to engage the reader.  

In essence, writing in first person is easy and a cop-out. It's easy to forget how to include description and emotion;

easy to spend far too much time thinking, and not enough time in the here-and-now of the story."

"It is drearily frustrating to see how much bad writing comes to me in first person," she ends.

What do you think?  Does FIRST PERSON deserve its bad rep?  What POV do you usually use in your novels
and short stories?


  1. I happen to think this writing teacher has a bias against first person, just look at the derogatory terminology she uses. That's not criticism, that's personal reaction.

    My most successful novel to date is a first person, present tense erotic murder dark fantasy werewolf tale. I could not have told Maxie's story in any other way. First person is as viable a POV as any other. Any POV can be mishandled, poor writing is poor writing. Granted first person is a difficult POV and many people do not like to read it. But to each his own.

  2. Melissa:
    I think you're definitely right. It is the author, not the POV, she or he uses that makes a novel well or badly written.

    Some teachers on the Net seem to think their views are the only ones that matter. Luckily, they are not Congressmen! :-)

  3. I like omniscient for my own writing but I don't dislike first person. It depends on the novel or story. If it's done well, I don't notice the POV. To me, the story's the thing.

    Why do people get on soapboxes about something which is totally subjective? We have a 'plethora' of experts these days. Take your pick.

  4. Now I'm showing my ignorance. What is POV?

  5. First person is easy? I've never attempted it because it seems more challenging to me.
    That and I really never wanted to be in Byron's head THAT much.

  6. Hi Roland ..

    Jp .. POV - Point of View ..

    I mix and blend my posts and my handwritten letters with my own point of view in the I format, as well as passing on information in a more third person format ...

    I could get very emotional using the "I" .. but temper it by providing snippets of historical information or bylines to allow readers to form their own thoughts on the subject matter ...

    At least that's what I think I do!! Cheers Hilary

  7. I write in first person. It has its drawbacks, of course, because you're only in the POV person's head. To me, first person allows me to show character better than third or second person POV. Really, it's up to the writer to draw in the reader.

  8. Another fine post. Much to ponder.

    Have put Writing In The Crosshairs, in my sidebar under, Writer Resources.

  9. D.G.:
    Omniscient is a grea POV for many thread and many characters, say in CENTENNIAL.

    People get on soapboxes because they mistake their way for THE way. :-)

    Asking an honest question is the only way any of us learn! Thanks, Hilary, for answering for jp.

    I imagine writing in 1st person for a character like Dexter would tell on someone after awhile!!

    Thanks for so graciously answering jp's question. Like you said, we must temper our POV with what story we are trying to tell.

    There are drawbacks to every POV, of course. But, like you, I prefer first person for the intimacy of it and for being able to surprise and hold my reader in suspense.

    Thank you so much for putting my blog in your sidebar under Writer Resources. :-) Have a great weekend!