Let’s talk about first person fiction. These are the stories than are written with the pronoun “I” verses he or she. That’s self-explanatory – right? We’re used to reading first person in blogs, journals and memoirs. After all, you probably don’t want to refer to yourself in third person very often. What’s less common but becoming more common are fiction books written in first person.
So What’s the Difference?
The difference is in perception. I’ll do an example from The Blooddoll Factory. I wrote that in third person omni, so here’s the original intro paragraphs:
The Blooddoll Factory in Third Person
William Wilson walked through the glass and stainless steel doors of Elite Surrogates and Adoption (ESA) with his briefcase in hand. He’d spent the morning flipping through the suits in his closet in order to find the perfect interview attire.
After 25 minutes and numerous warnings from his wife, he decided on a basic black off-the-rack jacket and pants with a white shirt and a red tie. He made it to his car with 20 minutes to spare and was thankful he lived close to the building. If his directions were correct, he’d be there in 10 minutes.
The Blooddoll Factory in First Person
I walked through the glass and stainless steel doors of Elite Surrogates and Adoption (ESA) with my briefcase in hand. I’d spent the morning flipping through the suits in my closet in order to find the perfect interview attire.
After 25 minutes and numerous warnings from my wife, I decided on a basic black off-the-rack jacket and pants with a white shirt and a red tie. I made it to my car with 20 minutes to spare and was thankful I lived close to the building. If my directions were correct, I’d be there in 10 minutes.
In the first version, you’re watching William get ready for his job interview and “hearing” him think about his morning. In the second version, you are William Wilson, and that is what is controversial about first person fiction. However, let’s look at why authors choose to write in first person and the pros and cons of the perspective.
Why Do Authors Choose First Person?
Authors choose first person for a variety of reasons. In this day and age, they may simply be more familiar with the structure surrounding the pronoun “I” than any other, and that’s a direct result of writing on the Internet, writing personal blog, participating in social media and writing text messages to family and friends. The bottom line: The author is simply more comfortable writing in first person.
It’s intimate. Writing in first person is like baring your soul to the world. Writing is already like this. For every book you read, you are reading the author’s soul and deepest thoughts. Remember, all fiction comes from a place within the author. Writing in first person takes this place to a whole new level. While your author was writing the book, he or she was the main character, and your author got to experience everything the character went through on a personal level.
The author lived it. Your author may have lived the experience but didn’t want to write a memoir. Instead, they chose to write a fiction novel based on their own personal experiences, and the only way they could effectively write it was by being the main character. This would fall under – based on X – if you were to see the notation on the movie screen. A great deal of it may be true, but a great deal more of it could be elaborated or added in simply to make the story flow better or be more exciting.
Pros of First Person Fiction
You get to be the main character of the book as you read it.
It’s more intimate and can feel more like a personal experience, depending on the content of the book.
It can be easier to write when compared to third person single and omni perspectives.
Cons of First Person Fiction
It offers a very limited viewpoint. The only character that the author can show is the main character. The “I”. In other words, the only perspective anyone gets is that of the main character – his or her thoughts, words and actions and perceptions of any characters that the main character comes in contact with. That’s it. You don’t get any other character viewpoints or perceptions.
The author can screw it up badly. While the initial syntax and sentence structure can be easier than third person, it’s easier to screw up a first person book. They accidentally add another viewpoint. They switch “I” characters as if it were a third person omni book, confusing readers.
The author is asking the reader to be the main character. I know I listed this as a pro. It’s also a con, and this is because not every reader is going to be able to identify with the main character deep enough to BE the main character for any length of time. This is particularly true if the character isn’t anything the reader is or wants to be.
For example, the first first-person book I ever looked at read – I sliced the succulent peach with the razor sharp knife as a longingly gazed across the table at her ample breasts. They were so large and her dress was so tight that I thought they might spill out at any moment, but on the heals of that, I also thought about how lovely it would be to get my peach-sticky hands all over them. My cock throbbed at the thought.
Yeah. That’s what I want to be – a male slicing a peach while staring at XXX breasts. NOT! That doesn’t appeal to me at all. I might have accepted it more if it were written in third person, and I might have been less likely to throw the book back on the shelf after proclaiming it to be the worst piece of shit fiction I’d ever read. Of course, I didn’t just slap that book back on the shelf. There were five of us standing around that aisle of books, and we all read a passage and laughed and wondered how the hell that got published and on the shelf at Walmart. But anyway...
The Bottom Line
There are reasons why authors choose first person, and there are reasons why readers like it. There are also some pretty hefty cons to the perspective. In the end, it’s up to the author, the book subject matter and the readers preferences when it comes to writing and reading first person fiction books. If you’re wondering what perspective I choose, it’s third person omni, and that’s simply because I want you to see every relevant viewpoint, and I think it adds depth.