Life from First Person POV
Today’s Brew: Pollen Brulee
First or Third?
It’s usually the next question writers ask each other soon after “what do you write?”
Whatever your choice is, you are probably pretty passionate about it. You may cross genres and age groups with the greatest of ease, but how you tell the story is your voice. Chances are, you are much more comfortable with one than the other. When I tell people I write in first person, they’ll either say they love doing it or they can’t do it. That’s how I feel about third person. For me, evening the playing field and knowing all the characters the same way flattens my storytelling. I feel like I’m giving a recap of a TV show, or just blocking out a screenplay. I’m simply reacting to what other people are doing. I admire everyone who writes third person with conviction and emotion, because I can’t do it. I can’t even bring myself to finish the project.
Back in the way day, I had a pen pal who told me she loved my letters because she felt like I was right there with her, telling her a story. I never forgot that. It’s something that I carried over to my books. When I sit down to tell my main character’s story, whether it be Callie or Melanie, or as you’ll meet later Kyndra and Daisy, I let them take over. I want it to be like my best girlfriend having drinks with me, telling me about this fantastic thing that happened to her. I want all her thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
For me, this is the best way to really dig inside one character’s head. I know how they feel about everything that’s happening, raw and uncensored. You can’t hide your crazy like that. We want characters with flaws, and the best way to find them is know what someone is thinking. You can’t lie about your thoughts. Some of my MCs are known for their bad decision making, and in first person, the reader gets to watch that decision bloom from spark to reality, and they can cheer along or beg them to stop.
I love the idea of the unreliable narrator. A first person main character is going to give you all of her opinions on the rest of the cast and the action in the story whether she’s right or not. I’m always surprised when readers love the characters my MC hates, or when they have an opinion of a character based on the MC’s perception, but that character actually has a completely different motivation.
The best part of writing first person for me is that the reader finds out things right along with the MC. In Because the Night, a lot of things are going on behind the scenes, and Callie takes one path, confident she knows who is responsible for the crimes. But she’s wrong, and the moment that she discovers it is just as shocking for the reader as it is for her. Had I told the story in third person or even dual POV, the reader would already know what Callie didn’t. It would have taken the punch away from that moment, almost like yelling from the audience, “Hey Callie, it was the butler with the lead pipe!” In Night Moves, Melanie is on the run, and she’s always worried she’s going to get caught. If the story was told by anyone but her, we’d know what she was going to run into when she turned the corner. We’d know who she could trust. But because she doesn’t know, we don’t either.
We experience life in first person POV. We feel highs and lows and form opinions that aren’t always right or fair. This is what makes us real people. For me, telling a story from first person gives you the grittiest, most accurate view of that character. I want you to see her weaknesses (because I believe that’s just as important as writing The Strong Female. All of us have fragile parts, but that’s another post.), her motivations, and I want you to laugh or cry with her. Like my pen pal said so long ago, I want you to feel like she, whether it’s Callie, Melanie, or the girls you haven’t met yet, is sitting right next you, telling you a story.