Understanding First-Person Narration

Welcome to the inner workings of the single-lettered word “I.” When you choose to write in first-person narration, you’re inviting your readers to take a deep dive into your character’s psyche. It’s a bit like a literary VR headset. But how do you wield this power without giving your readers literary motion sickness? Let’s dive in.

What Is First-Person Narration?

First-person narration is the equivalent of putting your reader in the driver’s seat of your story. It’s when your protagonist takes the reader by the hand and says, “Buckle up, buttercup. You’re in for a wild ride.” In technical terms, it’s when the story is narrated from one character’s perspective, typically the protagonist, using “I” or “we.”

The Power and Limitations of First-Person Narration

First-person narration has the power to create an intimate bond between the reader and the protagonist. It’s like sharing a secret or a cup of coffee with a good friend. But friends don’t always share everything.

The limitations? Your readers only know what your narrating character knows. No sneaky peeks into other characters’ thoughts. It’s a world bound by the narrator’s perceptions, experiences and biases.

If you’ve written thoughts and emotions from other characters without them outright showing it, then you’ve accidentally slipped into another POV. We call this head hopping, and readers hate it.

Techniques for Mastering First-Person Narration

  1. Authentic voice: Ensure the voice of your character is consistent and authentic. Would a hardened detective really use the phrase “oh fiddlesticks”?
  2. Stay in character: Remember that your reader sees the world through your character’s eyes. Ensure their observations and insights align with their personality and experiences.
  3. Character growth: First-person narration provides a unique opportunity to show character growth from the inside out.
  4. Show, don’t tell: This age-old adage holds particularly true in first-person narration. Let your readers interpret the world through actions and dialogue, not just the narrator’s thoughts.

Tips to Improve Your First-Person Narrative

  1. Keep your character’s voice distinct and consistent.
  2. Utilize your character’s unique perspective to color the narrative.
  3. Be mindful of overusing “I” at the start of sentences.
  4. Utilize other characters and dialogue to reveal information the narrator wouldn’t know.

Common Mistakes in First-Person Narration and How to Avoid Them

  1. Too much telling: Avoid lengthy internal monologues. Show the reader your character’s feelings through their actions.
  2. The invincible narrator: Your narrator knows a lot, but they shouldn’t know everything. Keep their knowledge realistic.
  3. Overusing “I”: Start sentences with something other than “I” to avoid sounding repetitive.

So that’s the key to unlocking the enigma of first-person narration. It’s a tricky beast but tame it, and it can be a powerful tool in your writer’s toolkit.

Exercise: Rewriting Third-Person Narratives to First-Person

Rewrite the following third-person passages using first-person narration:

  1. John looked at the letter. His heart pounded in his chest. He couldn’t believe what he was reading.
  2. Candace spent six months writing her latest fantasy book, and she was glad to finally finish it and send it off to her editor.
Answer Key
  1. I looked at the letter, my heart pounding in my chest. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
  2. I spent six months writing my latest fantasy book, and I was glad to finally finish it and send it off to my editor.