prejudice against first person?

OMG, I thought we’d seen the end of this sort of silliness.

When I first started looking for markets for my work in 2005, it was not uncommon at all to find in the submission guidelines for a magazine or agent the line that works written in first person would not be considered. Thankfully, that prejudice has disappeared, thanks to some excellent books written in first person. Well – almost. Some people still insist that all their submissions have to be in third person (and past tense, too).

Exactly what it is that Haters Of Things hate about first person, I’ve never been able to understand, except perhaps that it’s different, and Haters Of Things hate ‘different’. Literature is made of ‘different’. Sometimes, writers use ‘different’ to prove a point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But is this a reason to blanket-reject anything that attempts to put a fresh face on narrative voice?

Please, go and pull the other one.

To be contrary, I wrote a flash story in second person future tense, just to prove I could.

Anyway, I’m glad to report that first person is no longer ‘different’, thanks to popular books like Hunger Games, which, incidentally, is written in present tense as well, another form of writing Haters Of Things tend to hate.

Honestly, people, open your mind to new styles when reading.

*No, I’m not a great fan of Tim Winton’s quote-mark-less dialogue either, for the simple reason that it’s hard to figure where the dialogue starts and where it stops, but eventually you get used to it, and then it’s almost like reading a ‘normal’ book, so in the end, my judgement about this could be summed up in ‘I don’t mind’.

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16 comments on “prejudice against first person?

  1. My question would be, when did first person become some new fad which must be prevented from sullying our literary landscape?

    “… I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.”

    If it’s good enough for Dickens, it’s a good enough option for me.

  2. I guess because first person has really allowed some authors to ramble at length without advancing any sort of story? It’s not a failing if the first person, simply a common abuse by beginning writers who use the form as an opportunity to wank on and on and on.

    • But rambling is perfectly possible in other POVs (and I have seen it being done frequently in third person, too). Internal monologue is a style choice rather than a choice inherent to POV.

      • Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely not a failing of the form, but a failing of how the form is perceived and subsequently abused. I know I chose the first person when I was in high school because it felt like a license to ramble.

  3. I ended up swearing that I would never write another book in the first person. I was fed up with people telling me that they wouldn’t read my books for that reason. I was fed up with people telling me that if they picked up a book in the first person in a bookshop, they put it straight back down.

    I could talk all I liked about Treasure Island or To Kill a Mockingbird, but they’ll dismiss anything as “oh, well there are always exceptions.”

    Until I wrote in the first person, I always thought SF/F readers were open to the new and the unusual … let alone something as normal as first person.

    • In the last few years, though, a lot of books have come out in first person, and I don’t think it’s half as much of an issue as it used to be. As I said, I’ve seen the issue virtually disappear from the ‘don’t’ lists of agents and magazine editors. I really can’t understand it anyway, and as you say, SF/F readers should be ready to embrace something new. Maybe it’s also more prevalent in semi-literary venues, such as SFF pro magazines, and in books aimed at younger readers. I note that both big hits after the HP series, Twilight and Hunger Games, are in first person, and Hunger Games is in present tense as well (and apart from that it’s just really, really well-written)

  4. As someone who sometimes writes in first person, this is all very depressing. I had no idea that some people will refuse to read a book simply because it’s in 1st person. For me, it’s the quality of the writing that counts, not which person it’s in.

    Having said that, I did notice recently that some newer books written in 1st person didn’t really have a driving force in terms of action. If you don’t like a character driven book, that might be a problem.

    • if there’s no driving force, then the book’s poorly-written. I wouldn’t blame the POV choice. As I said, I’ve seen plenty of books which waffle the socks off the reader in third person.

  5. I believe there is room for both. Ultimately isn’t the decision up to the reader. They vote by reading or not reading.

    In support of first person, I like the way this style choice invites the reader in to a private conversation. If done well, we can feel like we are in conversation with the author.

    Both voices have their place. To exclude one over the other limits creativity and possibility in writing. I am all for future writing not saying either is necessary. One will sound better for each piece of writing.

    • In a way, that’s true, but I also think it’s a bit limiting, because it honestly doesn’t make that much difference. Often, I have to go back to a book to look at what POV it’s in.

  6. I am not sure about the others – but I like to write in the first person, because it allows me to get into the person’s shoes.

    And @jenn, I totally agree. Both voices have their places.

    • I started off writing in first, until some Smart-arse More Experienced Than Me in a workshop told be that it was a no-no. I saw the comments about first person in submission guidelines, and decided that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea, but lately, I’ve gone back to writing at least 60% of my stories in first person. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

  7. I thought first-person what the “in thing” so to speak, so this comes as a surprise. I’ve a passion for chicklit, and all are nearly in the first person.
    I’m writing one which is the third person, mainly because I prefer to write that way, but I’m wondering if it’ll ever be accepted because of style I’ve chosen.

  8. For me it doesn’t matter what POV is employed in the story telling, as long as it’s written well, and I keep on wanting to turn the page.

    First person is constraining because it limits the reader to that one perspective; reader can only know what this character knows. But if done well, there’s not problem at all.

    Perhaps in the past beginning writers used first person primarily because they thought it was easier, more comfortable. It’s just one of the ways to tell a story.

    POV should fit the type of story writer is wanting to share. There should be no rules about that.

    Some writers, especially beginning writers, have a tendency to get stuck in first person point of view. It’s helpful to at least

    • I love first person for that reason: because the writer can’t cheat and jump to someone else’s POV. A story told from one person’s POV feels so much more like you’re there with the character. It doesn’t matter whether it’s written in first or third, I prefer single-viewpoint stories.

      Some subgenres, like epic fantasy, lend themselves much more to multiple POV. In fact its almost mandatory. I will read those books, but I feel annoyed every time the viewpoint changes.

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