Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#1
Here's what I've written so far, the first para to a story I'm working on.

My biggest problem with it is that I seem to say 'I' too much. Is it noticeably bad? Tips for avoiding this?


Quote:I still remember the moment I woke from death, not really alive, but close enough. Scared the wits out of me, but I grinned like a schoolboy on Friday. A second chance, an opportunity to do things over, to finally live proud, how could I not be happy? Yeah, well. I’d always known that second chances didn’t come cheap. I was a fool to think this time would be any different. 


Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#2
Fuchsia Wrote: My biggest problem with it is that I seem to say 'I' too much. Is it noticeably bad? Tips for avoiding this?

Without actually reading what you have written, or even commenting on your style, the answer to this question is almost always YES. 

There are two things that are the hardest about writing first person. Well, maybe three. First off, it is a nearly a perfect certainty that when an author writing in the first person uses the word I all the time, it is because their writing is passive.

Think of passive writing as this -- if you can sit in a chair and not move a muscle, yet do what the verb in the sentence is saying, that is a passive sentence.

I REMEMBER THE MOMENT I WOKE FROM DEATH is passive writing, because you can do the verb REMEMBER while sitting in a chair and not moving.

I GRINNED LIKE A SCHOOLBOY - Again. You can GRIN without moving.

HOW COULD I NOT BE HAPPY? - You can not be happy while sitting in a chair.

I'D ALWAYS KNOWN SECOND CHANCES DON'T COME CHEAP. - Ditto

I WAS A FOOL. - Do you see my point? 😸



The second surefire sign that tells you your writing is passive is when the Subject of the sentence does not do the action.

I SAW A BIRD SING. This is passive writing because the Subject (I) is not doing the action (SINGING). The Object of the sentence (BIRD) is doing the action in this sentence.

When writing in the first person, it is super important not to write sentences like that -- where the MC is observing (or smelling or hearing or thinking about) what something or someone else is doing. You can get away with writing like that a great deal more often when writing a story in the third person, because all sorts of characters and things can do these passive things and the story is not dragged down because there is a diverse group of subjects for the author to choose from.

When writing in the first person, there is only one subject who can inform us of what their senses are telling them -- the MC. That is it. And after just a few I SAW and I SMELLED and I WATCHED and I FELT and I THOUGHT sort of sentences, the story quickly gets dragged down.

And that is a shame! You see, the best part about reading a story in the first person is the reader gets to feel the action viscerally. The running the jumping, the punching, the grabbing. It's all right there being described to us by the person who is doing the action.

But the seeing and the feeling and the hearing and the thinking? Uff da.

Let's skip ahead to the part where the ACTION is. 😻

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#3

ArDeeBurger Wrote:
Fuchsia Wrote: My biggest problem with it is that I seem to say 'I' too much. Is it noticeably bad? Tips for avoiding this?

Without actually reading what you have written, or even commenting on your style, the answer to this question is almost always YES. 

There are two things that are the hardest about writing first person. Well, maybe three. First off, it is a nearly a perfect certainty that when an author writing in the first person uses the word I all the time, it is because their writing is passive.

Think of passive writing as this -- if you can sit in a chair and not move a muscle, yet do what the verb in the sentence is saying, that is a passive sentence.

I REMEMBER THE MOMENT I WOKE FROM DEATH is passive writing, because you can do the verb REMEMBER while sitting in a chair and not moving.

I GRINNED LIKE A SCHOOLBOY - Again. You can GRIN without moving.

HOW COULD I NOT BE HAPPY? - You can not be happy while sitting in a chair.

I'D ALWAYS KNOWN SECOND CHANCES DON'T COME CHEAP. - Ditto

I WAS A FOOL. - Do you see my point? 😸



The second surefire sign that tells you your writing is passive is when the Subject of the sentence does not do the action.

I SAW A BIRD SING. This is passive writing because the Subject (I) is not doing the action (SINGING). The Object of the sentence (BIRD) is doing the action in this sentence.

When writing in the first person, it is super important not to write sentences like that -- where the MC is observing (or smelling or hearing or thinking about) what something or someone else is doing. You can get away with writing like that a great deal more often when writing a story in the third person, because all sorts of characters and things can do these passive things and the story is not dragged down because there is a diverse group of subjects for the author to choose from.

When writing in the first person, there is only one subject who can inform us of what their senses are telling them -- the MC. That is it. And after just a few I SAW and I SMELLED and I WATCHED and I FELT and I THOUGHT sort of sentences, the story quickly gets dragged down.

And that is a shame! You see, the best part about reading a story in the first person is the reader gets to feel the action viscerally. The running the jumping, the punching, the grabbing. It's all right there being described to us by the person who is doing the action.

But the seeing and the feeling and the hearing and the thinking? Uff da.

Let's skip ahead to the part where the ACTION is. 😻
Could you give them an example by changing their sentences? That would be a great help I think. 

All great points btw! 

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#4

Ankur_93 Wrote: Could you give them an example by changing their sentences? That would be a great help I think. 

All great points btw!
Thank You! 


I have found it exceedingly hard to write in the first person, for all the reasons I've mentioned.  No matter how well a scene I craft, it always sounds better if I write it in the third person.

And unfortunately, I cannot give an example of how to rewrite these sentences to make them sound better. There is no action in the scene. The whole paragraph is passive. 

If I may don an edtor's cap and critique this passage, it suffers from more than passive writing. 


I still remember the moment I woke from death, not really alive, but close enough. This point is moot. I'm sure we all would remember a day where we woke from the dead. It would be hard to forget.

Scared the wits out of me, but I grinned like a schoolboy on Friday. Scared of what? Did you forget to put on pants before you died?

A second chance, an opportunity to do things over, to finally live proud, how could I not be happy? The best sentence by far in the paragraph. Truly the only one worth keeping, and a great way to start the story. It should be in the blurb! However, the comma after the word PROUD should be an m-dash or a semi-colon.

Yeah, well. I’d always known that second chances didn’t come cheap. How do you know this? Did you take a class on the subject?

I was a fool to think this time would be any different.  Saying THIS TIME WOULD BE ANY DIFFERENT implies that you've come back from the dead before. If true, this would be your third or fourth chance at life, not your second.

Both passive writing and writing in the first person leads to navel-gazing by the MC such as this. The HOW COULD I NOT BE HAPPY sentence, once fixed, is a great way, I think, to open the story. The rest of the sentences should be scrapped, and the reader should instead be plunged instantly into the action.

A second chance, an opportunity to do things over, to finally live proud -- how could I not be happy? I donned my armour and grabbed my shield, bounding out the door to do battle.

Woo hoo! You go, girl. Kick some bad guy butt!  😻

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#6

Fuchsia Wrote: I still remember the moment I woke from death, not really alive, but close enough. Scared the wits out of me, but I grinned like a schoolboy on Friday. A second chance, an opportunity to do things over, to finally live proud, how could I not be happy? Yeah, well. I’d always known that second chances didn’t come cheap. I was a fool to think this time would be any different.


It's hard to say anything based upon a snippet like this. Actually, for the section you shared (probably a book opener) the amount of 'I' isn't too disturbing, but yeah, you should try to remove them as much as possible for the rest of the work as long as it doesn't destroy the flavor. On your first edit, look at every paragraph starting with 'I' and see if you can rewrite it. Sometimes you can't.

Passive voice is always a danger, but if you keep it under control, inserting a little of it isn't too bad, especially if it's a story that addresses the reader, or where the character itself has a strong voice.

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#7
1: Always write the narrative like it's coming from your PoV character. So many people just assume you can change 'He/Her' to 'I' and it's suddenly first person. Sure, it may technically be first person, but it's going to be terrible. The narrative itself needs to bleed the PoV characters personality, and if it doesn't. then you missed the mark.

2: Among that, you need to match the word choice to the character as well. You might want to use that big fancy word, but if you're in the head of a young teenager, then don't even think about it unless they're made to be really smart.

ArDeeBurger Wrote: There are two things that are the hardest about writing first person. Well, maybe three. First off, it is a nearly a perfect certainty that when an author writing in the first person uses the word I all the time, it is because their writing is passive.

And yes, #2 includes intentionally putting passive voice into your writing. Passive voice isn't bad as long as it's done well, and doesn't need to always be cut out. In fact, trying to make it active can end up killing some really good sentences because you're trying to shoehorn active phrases into a position where it doesn't feel natural for people to say. That's probably why you say you have trouble with first person.


To sum it up: First person is told from the PoV character, and as people naturally speak using passives, that means that avoiding using those passives for the sake of it will lead to them losing a chunk of their voice. That's to say, you'll lose half of what makes first person so good.

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#8
I write in first person and can pass on a few tidbits.

First, you need to come up with ways to get around the limitations of the POV. Often the reader needs to know things that the MC doesn't, or you need to give the MC some information somehow that they shouldn't be able to get. One easy example of this is the Harry Potter books, they are done in Harry's POV and so in order to get him more information JKR had to invent ways to get him that information, so she created all these contraptions: the Pensieve, the mirror, the invisibility cloak, the Marauder's map etc. Each of those were tactics to get information to the reader, through Harry. Other ways are to have a chapter from another character's point of view, though be careful swapping around POV if you do this.

In the same vein, in order to "show" the reader what the POV character looks like you need to use things like mirrors or other characters to comment on their appearance, so for Harry Potter again, you had the Dursley's and Malfoy giving us insight as to the appearance of Harry and his friends. 

Be careful about tense, it's really easy to slip tense when working in FPOV and you need to make sure you are in the moment and not switching in and out. 

If you are concerned with the usage of "I" all over the place, you can use internal dialog as well, most people use italics for it. Internal dialog will help break up longer dialog and descriptions.

And of course, show don't tell. Don't tell me how you feel, make me feel it. The strength of FPOV is that you can bring readers fully into your character, it's when you want to have maximum emotional impact on the reader. A third-person POV will be more detached in a fight scene, in first person you have the reader right there, *they* are in the fight, they are dodging and ducking and hitting. They feel the elation and the defeat.  

Choosing the right POV for your story is probably the single most important decision you make about the story.

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#9

joeldg Wrote: I write in first person and can pass on a few tidbits.

First, you need to come up with ways to get around the limitations of the POV. Often the reader needs to know things that the MC doesn't, or you need to give the MC some information somehow that they shouldn't be able to get. One easy example of this is the Harry Potter books, they are done in Harry's POV and so in order to get him more information JKR had to invent ways to get him that information, so she created all these contraptions: the Pensieve, the mirror, the invisibility cloak, the Marauder's map etc. Each of those were tactics to get information to the reader, through Harry. Other ways are to have a chapter from another character's point of view, though be careful swapping around POV if you do this.

In the same vein, in order to "show" the reader what the POV character looks like you need to use things like mirrors or other characters to comment on their appearance, so for Harry Potter again, you had the Dursley's and Malfoy giving us insight as to the appearance of Harry and his friends. 

Be careful about tense, it's really easy to slip tense when working in FPOV and you need to make sure you are in the moment and not switching in and out. 

If you are concerned with the usage of "I" all over the place, you can use internal dialog as well, most people use italics for it. Internal dialog will help break up longer dialog and descriptions.

And of course, show don't tell. Don't tell me how you feel, make me feel it. The strength of FPOV is that you can bring readers fully into your character, it's when you want to have maximum emotional impact on the reader. A third-person POV will be more detached in a fight scene, in first person you have the reader right there, *they* are in the fight, they are dodging and ducking and hitting. They feel the elation and the defeat.  

Choosing the right POV for your story is probably the single most important decision you make about the story.


Going to step in and say 'Show don't tell' is bad advice for first person. You should be showing and telling, because that's how people universally talk.
Unless your PoV is this super well spoken author, then show don't tell would work.
If you're writing an every day person though, then you better be telling some things if you want the narration to feel like it's coming from a real person. Just imagine it. This young thirteen year old street rat thief with little to no education speaking in perfect 'show' talk. That simply doesn't work.

Also, we don't buy that those are weaknesses of first person. The lack of information can be used to enhance the story and add tension. Besides, a much better solution to the information problem is to just not write yourself into a corner where you're stuck without the information. That way you won't need to give them a special item that will likely only be used once so the plot can progress.

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#10

Vivian Wrote:
Quote:Going to step in and say 'Show don't tell' is bad advice for first person. You should be showing and telling, because that's how people universally talk.
Unless your PoV is this super well spoken author, then show don't tell would work.
If you're writing an every day person though, then you better be telling some things if you want the narration to feel like it's coming from a real person. Just imagine it. This young thirteen year old street rat thief with little to no education speaking in perfect 'show' talk. That simply doesn't work.

Also, we don't buy that those are weaknesses of first person. The lack of information can be used to enhance the story and add tension. Besides, a much better solution to the information problem is to just not write yourself into a corner where you're stuck without the information. That way you won't need to give them a special item that will likely only be used once so the plot can progress.

Actually, those are well known "limitations" (you use the word weakness here, which I would not use). But don't take my word for it, you can google "limitations of first person point of view" and find many, many collections of these limitations from much finer authors than myself. 

As for "telling" in FPOV, I think I understand your point, but I fear that would end up sounding like a diary. I mean, you can have a street urchin and use the language that character has available to express happiness without saying "I am feeling happy."

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#11

joeldg Wrote: Actually, those are well known "limitations" (you use the word weakness here, which I would not use), you can google "limitations of first person point of view" and find many, many collections of these limitations from much finer authors than myself. 

As for "telling" in FPOV I think I understand your point, but I fear that would end up sounding like a diary. I mean, you can have a street urchin and use the language that character has available to express happiness without saying "I am feeling happy."
Let's go through these limitations then that we found by googling that.


1: It is limited to a single story thread. Not true. If PoV character changing is handled well, then it can be told from multiple different PoV characters.

2: It would risk making the narrative self-indulgent in the narrator’s emotions.  To this we have one word. Good. First person has the ability to let the characters emotions bleed out as part of the story. In fact a first person story without emotions being a big part of it just sounds dry to us. You might as well be writing a robot.

3: It tends to be bias. Yes. As is every story told by humans. This bias can even add a lot of flavor to the narrative if treated well.

4: It narrows the experience I mean, if you're wanting to write a story about two nations at war with all these politics going on in every corner of the kingdom, then why the hell are you writing it from a single persons account? I mean sure, it's technically a limitation, but that's like saying the worlds best golfer has a limitation of not being the worlds best basket ball player. 

5. It would be difficult to describe the narrator. It's the easiest thing in the world to describe the narrator in first person. You can include them in the cover, have other characters comment on it, or have the MC comment on it themselves in a way that relates to whatever is going on at the time. For example: To show she's tall, I have my MC shrink down her seat on the bus so her head won't stick out. To show that she has super dark eye bags, we have a scene where she's just putting on make up to cover them up and it's revealed through an aggravated throw away comment.

6. It would make it difficult for the narrator to capture the character.  ...I mean, this is as much of a limitation as saying 'writing is hard.' Welcome to first person writing. Narrative voice is a skill to get good at.
---
Yeah, we do agree with you there that 'I am feeling happy' is bad. Going to use this bit as an example:

"I finally went to work. Measure, cut, take off messed up pieces, screw in new wood, complain about how he messed everything up, repeat. It went well at first, but fixing his mistakes turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. There were at least five freaking pilot holes all drilled at terrible angles on some spots, which meant I had to replace that piece, or somehow find a way to get the screw in without the pilot holes messing me up. That wasn’t even mentioning the frame of the chair. It was so uneven that the boards on the front of the seat were an inch longer than the ones near the back. How he managed to even cut these properly to fit in the first place was a mystery."

I have a fair bit of telling in this, but it works because it show's and tells while also including the MCs personality in the narrative. As long as you have those three things, then you can make even having a person watching grass grow be interesting to read.

Re: Trying to write in first person for the first time, tips?

#12

Vivian Wrote:
joeldg Wrote: Actually, those are well known "limitations" (you use the word weakness here, which I would not use), you can google "limitations of first person point of view" and find many, many collections of these limitations from much finer authors than myself. 

As for "telling" in FPOV I think I understand your point, but I fear that would end up sounding like a diary. I mean, you can have a street urchin and use the language that character has available to express happiness without saying "I am feeling happy."
Let's go through these limitations then that we found by googling that.
...

4: It narrows the experience I mean, if you're wanting to write a story about two nations at war with all these politics going on in every corner of the kingdom, then why the hell are you writing it from a single persons account? I mean sure, it's technically a limitation, but that's like saying the worlds best golfer has a limitation of not being the worlds best basket ball player. 

5. It would be difficult to describe the narrator. It's the easiest thing in the world to describe the narrator in first person. You can include them in the cover, have other characters comment on it, or have the MC comment on it themselves in a way that relates to whatever is going on at the time. For example: To show she's tall, I have my MC shrink down her seat on the bus so her head won't stick out. To show that she has super dark eye bags, we have a scene where she's just putting on make up to cover them up and it's revealed through an aggravated throw away comment.


You realize you are agreeing with each of my points I brought up above, right? You even just re-used one of my examples. So, I'm confused. Were you disagreeing with my first statement there still, or?

Your example seems to be in Deep POV. I do not personally write in Deep POV, but I do enjoy reading it. As for show/tell, I understand the point you are making now. I provided an example of "tell" and you provided your show+tell, all good.