I was debating this question with another writer, who claims that first person is sort of a cop-out, that it's easy. I argued that it's much harder for a writer to convey other people's motives, thoughts, and feelings when sticking to first person, so it's actually more of a challenge and only really good writers can spin a good yarn that way.
After much discussion, I think I deciphered that he was referring to the technical aspect of writing as opposed to the creative side (keeping grammar and POV consistent vs layering the story).
The other issue with first person writing is that too many people read it and think it's non-fiction or think you're incorporating your life into it, when in fact it's just a tool to make a bigger impact to the reader.
So I'm wondering your thoughts on this. Do you write first person? Do you find it easy, difficult, or just plain evil? Do people assume they know you because of what you write?
I write quite a lot of 'first person' and I don't find it hard. If the story completely rotates around that character, then everything is presented as they see it, or at least perceive it. This narrows the field in one respect, as every other character must be within the shot, but also allows you to explain your own character better.
And yes.... people do assume it's me I'm writing about sometimes ... which it isn't, although it's very likely a bit of yourself creeps into every first person character you create.
It's also very good for comical writing ... because it's always better to laugh with somebody.
I want to add that my first person narratives are intended to be just as fictional as my third person narratives. Bob expresses the first-person choice very eloquently. I hadn't thought about why I choose first sometimes, and third person other times. It just "feels" right in some intuitive way. My Richard and Lola series, is about two very strange people, about whom I need a third person perspective and voice to give it some rational clarity. Some of my other writing just feels right in the "I" voice. But the "I" voice is NOT the author--at least I hope not (Gulp!)
Who said, "All writing is autobiographical"? I write first person 'cause it's the person I know best. I don't think I could tell a story third-person. I didn't realize until visiting sites like this that first-person can be misconstrued as non-fiction. So, not to confuse the reader, in the novel I recently finished I clearly stated in the disclaimer:
This is a work of fiction; the people, places and events are not
I enjoy writing in the first and thrid person. I find first person helpful when I want to reader to see only what "I" see. It is easier to pull off a surprise ending, or a twist in the story, but I would not say it is easier to write. Each POV has challenges. It all depends on the writer's comfort level.
I used always to write in first person. One summer, I spent two months rewriting my short stories in third, as an exercise, so I could learn to do it and to stay in POV. I found it a challenge, but it's good to be able to use one or the other at will.
I write in first or third person, limited pov, most of the time sort of intuitively using which ever person comes to mind as I start, though on occasion I have gone back and switched. I don't find either too difficult. What I do find difficult is third person omniscient as a device. It's extremely hard to maintain interest when the reader knows everything from the outset, or can read what everyone is thinking. I wouldn't say, like Lesli, that I hate second person, but it does sound gimmicky, and we all have Jay McInerney's success to blame for authors attempting to replicate. I also do not hate present tense, but it should be limited to suspense and thrillers.
So, my overall answer is I don't think any pov is difficult to write if one has a feel for the material and follows intuition on how to go about setting it down. And people are always going to assume the material is autobiographical or a roman a clef because that's why we read--to see ourselves or peers reflected. Isn't that at the heart of Joyce's epiphanies?
Yes. It just depends on what works best for the story. Main characters tend to end up buried in mine, so I write more third.
Do you find it easy, difficult, or just plain evil?
I find it much easier to write poetry than prose this way, but no difference in difficulty writing prose in first person or third.
Do people assume they know you because of what you write?
Yes, but so what? This happens regardless of the writer's POV. When I first got married, my wife's family was afraid that I was a serial killer, because of the short fiction I wrote, which was penned almost exclusively in third. In fact, it wasn't until much, much later that I actually started killing people....*
The other issue with first person writing is that too many people read it and think it's non-fiction.
Isn't that the goal?
@Michael: What I do find difficult is third person omniscient as a device. It's extremely hard to maintain interest when the reader knows everything from the outset, or can read what everyone is thinking.
Agreed. I get a SCANNERS headache at the mere prospect of it.
I also do not hate present tense, but it should be limited to suspense and thrillers.
Matter of preference and I respect yours. As a reader, though, I can enjoy any genre in either tense. The opening chapter from AS I LAY DYING would have been pretty flat in past-tense; in present, it's nothing short of magical.
@Kawfee: This is a work of fiction; the people, places and events are not.
*I am appalled, not amused, by murder and violence. Unless I'm joking about it in the abstract. Which I clearly was in the starred comment above.
A little more treasured first-person magic, then I'll shut up again:
"My name is Mary Katharine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."
Shirley Jackson, WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
I tend to write in whatever voice gives the most life to the characters and the story (1st person – 3rd person, and yes, sometimes even 2nd person). I think what really matters most is how well the narrative works and the authenticity of the story through the characters words and actions. Like Walter, Brad, and Bob, sometimes when writing in 1st person I’ve had to explain to readers that I write fiction….I am not a gangster/thug, murderer, sexually abused adolescent, gun smuggler, etc, although I think that each of us as writers can bring our own experiences (both real and imagined) into the development of our characters which gives more credibility to them. I’ve found sometimes when a story I’m working on bogs down, changing the voice and POV can give it a new life and make what was previous unworkable work.
Hey Allie, It's a ying and yang thingy.
First person does convey a personal voice and if you can get the reader to THINK it's realy you; you win!
Third person allows you to go backward and forward in time like a spiritual entity. (Such as warning the reader of future events.) and is detached enough to be opininated on any aspect of the story.
another trick that works for me is write the first page in both first and third and see what YOU prefer.
Every story lends itself to its own voicing. Are you as the writer active? (first person) or passive, (third person).
Choose your poison.
As for second person?........I'd rather go in the Seminary