So, it’s getting towards the boring end of the afternoon, where my editing brain has zonked out, and I opened a file with an almost-finished short story, and I found myself just staring at it, or, more accurately, being annoyed with Word defying my attempt to make the file display at full screen size (yes, I know, I don’t understand it either).
So I asked Twitter what I should write about, and someone (waves to Bryan) suggested I write about ‘the pitfalls of writing in first person and how to avoid them’.
I thought about that for a while, because the previous few posts have been about science, which means I am overdue for a post about writing. But… just what are the pitfalls of writing in first person?
Other than that some people claim to hate it, except ‘when it’s done well’.
So what is ‘done well’ and how does ‘done well’ distinguish itself from ‘not done well’?
OK, I can imagine a few scenarios. You may have prose that is overly voice-y which may annoy some readers. The prose may succumb to too much internal thought that is whiny and boring. Inexperienced writers may start two in every three sentences with the word ‘I’.
But are any of these things unique to first person writing? Not in the slightest! You can just as well have an annoying voice, whiny internal thought and repetetive sentence starts in third person, or second person if you want to be contrary.
So what does it mean when someone says ‘first person is not done well’? It means, my dears, that your writing overall doesn’t work for them, and wouldn’t have worked for them had you replaced all your I-s with he-s or she-s. It means that something in the writing jarred them, and it most likely wasn’t the fact that you wrote in first person.
Not convinced? Take a random book, and ask random readers who mentioned they enjoyed this book a lot to identify the POV. Most likely, a significant number of them will say ‘I don’t remember’.
So: first person or third person, it does not matter. What matters is that your writing doesn’t bore the reader, regardless of POV.
And those avowed first-person haters? It’s their right, and no one or nothing would probably change their mind anyway. There are some things some people don’t like. That’s OK. After all, nothing is going to make me drink Coke either.