If you’re wondering how to write a first person narrative or even why, wonder no more.
There’s a certain magic when you hold up the book and look through someone else’s eyes at the world. But even more rewarding experience could be to empathize so much with the narrator that you are made to become him at one point. The power of the words you read is so strong that you have no choice but to witness an event from a perspective that doesn’t really fit your views.
Is this good? Is it bad? Neither or both?
Well, it can depend on many different factors but the author’s voice is of vital importance here. When writing in first person you, as the author, cannot write it as you would write your autobiography, it’s not a fiction then, but a blog post. We use this voice every day; we are this voice.
When writing in first person author must know:
- The mindset of the character
- How to detach from them
Knowing your character is always the most important thing – there is no story if your character isn’t defined. But when writing in first person, you must know the exact way your character forms thoughts, associates ideas with other ideas; you must know what kind of humor amuses them, what they see first in the morning and what they wish to see instead; you must know where your characters have itches, what their little daily sorrows are, what brings them joy instantly. These are the things you don’t get to expand on when writing in third person, but first person allows you.
They’re not you
You must know how to detach yourself from your character. It’s easy when you write about characters without using “I”, but when you write fifty or sixty thousand words and in most sentences you must exclaim some kind of an opinion that isn’t yours, it gets messy and confusing. What if you were to write about a sociopath’s inner thoughts? How would you describe the way they interpret the smell of spring or the raindrops on their face? What emotion would those little impulses provoke or what opinion of theirs would the impulses reveal?
They must be real
You must be consistent. If you’re not going for the unreliable narrator then every sentence you write must be in a perfect harmony with the rest of your novel. It gets easier as you write but the first few chapters will almost certainly seem rough and unfinished when you start. The power of rewriting is the only thing that can help there, but only when you finish the whole thing.
You must create your character in such detail where you would know them better than your best friend. And it’s hard! You’ll have to put a person you made in the worst situation possible because that’s what storytelling is about. And you’ll have to follow their every impulse, knowing what they would want to be different.
That’s a challenge, it’s not easy to do it properly. Louis Ferdinand Celine wrote The Journey At The End Of The Night and the main character is an antihero, but Celine had the advantage to be an antihero as well, so his book was almost autobiographical. But we have to plan it in great detail and be ready to make tough decisions and live through the torments of our characters. The most important achievement and the greatest pleasure of yours will indeed be making your readers feel what you felt and what your character felt. You’ll force them to see the world through your characters eyes, to understand them perfectly even when they disagree. One can not put a price on that.
On that note, keep writing!
Author: Mladen Reljanović
Mladen Reljanović is the founder and lead writer at Writer to Writers. He is the author of Oaktown stories, senior student of communication and a pianist.