Thursday, March 12, 2009

What’s Wrong with First Person? – A Reader Writes

Yesterday on the ABNA forums there was quite an outcry when our ‘insider’ posted that the reviewers were not happy with the plethora of excerpts written in first person Point of View.
Here are the Reviewers comments on First Person, quoted on

~”Has anyone noticed that the vast majority of the excerpts have been written in the first person?”

~”The most egregious hazard? Submitting excerpts which were written in first person...The bulk of these "authors" quickly lost control of their writing.”

~”…had a very large number of first person narrative style. This is DEFINITELY not my favorite form of story to read.”

~...thinking "Please don't le t this be another...1st person story".

~”...when you don't set the stage properly, you're basically putting a blindfold on the reader. Just really starting to bug me after about 7 excerpts in a row that all have had that problem...” (in reference to use of 1st person)

Well, why is 1st person POV undesirable?

The first problem with 1st person PoV is that it appears both easy and personal, so ‘newbie’ writers are attracted to it. This is an issue in itself, as first person is often synonymous with ‘amateur writer.’ While there are many ‘popular’ writers who use first person, the bad tends to out-weight the good.

Second, it is a whole lot harder to write in first person than most people realize. It is harder to ‘see’ the character, unless they spend a whole lot of time looking into mirrors. It is easy to get carried away – remember Overkill? – give ‘too much information’ about the character, so they appear whiny, petty, bitter, stupid or just plain obnoxious. Setting the stage is much trickier, if not done right, as one reviewer c! ommented: “it is like putting a blindfold on the reader.”

Third, the “I” becomes monotonous, often monotone, like too many ‘he said, she said” passages. The reader becomes indifferent or hostile to the character, so the book goes back on the shelf, or in the ‘donate’ pile. Or in the online world, the story is deleted before it is read.

Fourth the breezy chic-lit “I” voice is prone to petty snarking; which is not engaging to an emotionally mature reader. After a few pages it starts to sound like the prattling of an empty-headed, vain, child, not an adult female. (Chic-lit has become a publishing leper, which also contributes to the problem.)

On ABNA I read far too many stories that would have been gems but the writer didn’t know when to make the main character shut up. Some characters had voices that didn’t fit. Many sounded far, far too young to be the voice of the character as presented. Some, well the character wasn’t likeable, I did not want to BE in that character’s head, not for one second.

The only good thing that I can say about First Person PoV is that – tada – the writer can’t head hop.

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