Should you write in first person?


I do not advise my students to write in the first person, especially when they are just beginning to write fiction. Writing in the first person is especially difficult because the unskilled writer often tends to become an omniscient narrator, which is really an impossibility if you are narrating in the first person. As a first person narrator, you can only see what the narrator sees, experiences, and thinks. Your first person narrator can never know what other people are thinking or feeling except from what they observe or are told. Your first person narrator can never see through walls or what is happening where the narrator is not present. The biggest problem this presents is if your narrator is not even the lead character, because then, the narrator would not be able to say what the lead character is doing in the narrator’s absence. This is not so much a problem in a short story, where the narrator can be present and in the company of the lead character throughout the duration of the story, or at least the majority of it. This is more of a problem in a novel, because it’s really possible for the lead character to be away from the narrator for a prolonged time, in which case the narrator cannot report anything that is happening to the lead character at a particular time unless the knowledge becomes available to the narrator. This is very good for novels about personal struggles or soul-searching.

The easiest point of view to handle and use is the omniscient narrator. As an omniscient narrator, you can see what everyone does at all times. You know what everyone is thinking and feeling, and you even hear what everyone says. Hence, you don’t encounter the problem of “head surfing,” which is a problem encountered when writing in the third person limited or first person perspectives. This is really good for novels with many characters and plots of adventure. The third person limited uses a narrator who can see only inside one character’s head, usually the main character. The narrator can only observe and report about other characters externally. This kind of narrator is a good choice for detective stories or mystery stories.