Thursday, March 30, 2017

Guest author Sorchia DuBois: In Defense of First Person

Sorchia DuBois
Lately, I’ve heard a number of people express an abiding prejudice against any book written in first person. They say they will toss a book aside as soon as the evil “I” signals a first person narrator.

Since I make use of first person POV, I am naturally concerned that one of my babies might be disqualified straight out of the gate. Tell me—from whence does this hatred spring?

Don’t get me wrong, no POV is generally superior to another, as far as I can tell. Sometimes that story has to be gotten straight from the horse’s mouth—first person. Sometimes the story comes to you by a roundabout way—third person. Sometimes you need to know many things at once to really get the story—omniscient. It all depends.

So let me explain why I sometimes use first person.

First person is a challenge. To those who say first person is easy, I say “Pah!” I have to stay in one person’s head and tell her story as only she sees it. I can’t fall back on an omniscient source to clear up bits of the plot or to find out what’s happening in another part of town. And I have to make the story as interesting to readers as it is to the protagonist.

Let’s not even mention the technical bits like how do you get a physical description of your first person narrator without sounding stupid or without resorting to the old “ I walked past a mirror and . . .?” And how do you avoid starting every sentence with “I” or filling your prose with “me” and “my”? How much reflection is too much? How do you keep the plot moving when things happen off-stage?

First person is more immediate. I can show the action as she experiences the plot twists I gleefully toss at her.  I use present tense sometimes and that increases the immediacy but creates another monkey puzzle of how to avoid the pitfalls of tense along with the pitfalls of first person.

First person is more intimate. My character—like any human—processes the things that happen to her. She reflects and talks to herself. This presents another challenge because the temptation is to constantly tell her thoughts instead of show them. In a deep first person POV, I can let her work through her problems and illustrate her true nature.

First person doesn’t have to be reliable. Oh, the tricksy tales we tell ourselves to rationalize our own actions. As a teacher, I loved teaching about Edgar Alan Poe and his unreliable first person narrators. You know the guy--the narrator who tells us how sane and normal he is while relating his deviant behavior. People often lie to themselves just as they lie to others and I want my characters to do the same. A first person narrator is, after all, a person telling a story to a room full of other people.

Sometimes that story has to be gotten straight from the horse’s mouth—first person. Sometimes the story comes to you by a roundabout way—third person. Sometimes you need to know many things at once to really get the story—omniscient. It all depends.

A great many classic novels make use of first person. To name only a few:

To Kill a Mockingbird
Gulliver’s Travels
Huck Finn
Catcher in the Rye
The Invisible Man

More modern uses of a first person narrator achieved best seller status. A few of these:

The Lovely Bones
The Stephanie Plum books
Outlander

I won’t change my first person stripes just yet though I don’t put myself in league with any of these authors. Still, I want to know what I can do to lure first person POV haters to give this kind of narrator another chance.

As a matter of fact, I’m presenting a brand new short story in first person for a blog challenge during the April. If you are up for it, follow me at www.sorchiadubois.com to receive every episode of this witchy little tale. Or grab my latest book, Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones. Tell me what you think of my brand of first person narrator.


8 comments:

Sorchia DuBois said...

Thanks so much to Novel Spaces for hosting my rant about first person narrators.
Sorchia's Universe

Liane Spicer said...

We're happy to have you with us today, Sorchia!

I wasn't aware that some readers were averse to first person narrators. I've used first and third person, limited and omniscient, and for me it's all about the best way to tell the story. As a reader I enjoy a variety of POVs. People have such strange quirks!

Laura Strickland said...

First-personally, I've never understood this rampant prejudice against being in someone's head. Isn't that where the story lives? Don't we want it filtered by the narrator's experience? Like you, I appreciate the immediacy of a first-person story. And I used to write mainly in first-person, spinning Celtic tales. Now that I've penned a story or two in third-person however, I also appreciate being able to get the hero's as well as the heroine's point of view. I think it depends on the nature of the story...

Ashantay said...

I've written in both first and third and agree that the story's characters determine which POV is best. Some characters just won't leave you alone until you type their story for them in their own words! I've come to understand that people who dismiss a book for the POV are so judgmental, they likely won't be satisfied regardless of how well the book is written. Oh, yes, that's bias on my part, isn't it? (smiling)

Sorchia DuBois said...

Thank you Liane, Laura, and Ashantay. I agree that discarding a book for something like POV may indicate a deeper problem :) but I'm curious since lately I've read comments to that effect. The characters make the determination for me, too. Thanks to all of you for weighing in!

Sharon Aguanno said...

Love first person!

Sorchia DuBois said...

Thank you, Sharon.

Carol Mitchell said...

Thanks for this article defending the first person POV. Many of my stories come to me in the first person although many adults claim to find it tiresome. It is difficult to write especially as it means that you have to get creative with telling aspects of the story that might be outside of the narrator's purview. I also love that the narrator does not have to be reliable. You can lay the ground for an effective story twist right there.
Young adults tend to like reading first person POV so that works out for me :-).