What Do You Think of First Person Narrators?

I’ve heard many opinions on in the book blogging community about how common it is for books, especially young adult books, to have a first person narrator.  Grab The Lapels had a wonderful post on why she was frustrated with YA novels, and made a fascinating point about just how too common a first-person narrator is in YA fiction and how much that can limit the perspective of a book. Her post made me began to consider the impact a first-person narrator has on a book.

I’ve had several different experiences with first person narrators. It seems they generally have one or more of several impacts on a book. They can be make a book feel personal, make a character that might be otherwise unlikable seem more relatable, exhaust a reader, or cripple a book that could have been impactful with a little more variety or perspective.

A first-person narrator can give us a look through their eyes at their life, and the battles they are fighting on a day-to-day basis. When an entire book is in first person, narrated by one character just speaking about themselves and their lives, we’ve only gotten one perspective when every character has a story.

First person narrative can give readers a very limited perspective on the story, and make it difficult to think about anything but just what one character is thinking. As a writer, I try to keep in mind that every character in my story has a story of their own, so to speak. When a writer forgets that all her characters have stories, the side characters can start to feel useless and bland.

First person narrators magnify events that involve them. The petty annoyances of life are made larger, and the life-changing things rock their world. Being able to display this much feeling and impact through an “I, me, my” narrator or character can seem impactful and enriching, or end up petty and exhausting.

In some books – and not necessarily just psychological thrillers- an unreliable first-person narrator undeniable enriches the story. When we must think about whether or not the narrator is telling the truth, it changes our perspective on the story and we think about the events and character more critically.

The Hank the Cowdog series by John Erickson is generally enjoyed by children, but the nuances of the character, humor, and emotion that is added to the book by an unreliable first-person narrator seem to have served to make the series interesting to all sorts of readers. It can be a powerful thing to have a flawed main character, and let readers see how a character’s life is filtered through their experiences, passions, thoughts, and opinions.

Veera Hiranandani has a wonderful first-person narrator in her book The Night Diary, which won the Newbery Medal this year. She was dealing with a topic that would be unfamiliar to many readers, and was also sensitive and filled with emotion. By filtering the events of her story through the eyes of a young girl, The Night Diary became a touching and impactful story rather than bleak, as it otherwise might have been

So when is a first-person narrator the right choice for a story? How can an author ensure that a reader sees past one character to her story as a whole? There’s not one right answer. In my opinion, she should certainly consider whether having one perspective is going to make her story powerful and character realistic, or if having multiple characters give their perspective is going to make it easier for characters to see her full story. First-person can be a wonderful asset to a story, but it’s good to have a chance to see the world through the eyes of several different people.

What do you think about first-person narrators? Do you love them? Hate them? Think there’s just too much of them? Do you think they improve a story or take away from it?

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “What Do You Think of First Person Narrators?

  1. I like first person narrators a lot, but that’s all I can really write. Sometimes I try writing in third person but I always feel as if I’m the character, so within the first chapter I end up saying “I” ha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes sense! I have heard that first person narrators are easier to write from writer friends, just because it feels more natural. What none of us like is writing about OURSELVES in third person… 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have to agree with a lot of what you said above, however, I personally love writing in first person. I have tried third person before and my writing isn’t very good. I understand that everyone is different and I love reading books in third person just I don’t think I could ever write in third person. I typically use multiple POVs in my books too so the reader can get more connected with my other characters, but I completely understand how some side characters lack the growth and personality that your main characters do. That is one of the few downfalls to first person.

    Overall, I personally just think it’s all up to the writer and how they write. This was a great post, Grace. I really enjoyed reading it!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard that a lot of people love writing in first person. I do because it makes it easier to know what the character would do, and it feels more natural.
      Third person can seem sort of formal when we’re used to reading and writing first person. I’ve also heard writers and authors say that writing in first person helps them make sure their main character is growing and changing and a full, well-rounded character, and it’s easier when writing from that character’s perspective.
      Oh, that’s a great solution! Multiple first-person POVs would be so much fun to read. Off the top of my head I can’t actually think of a book that has that!
      Yes, that’s for sure! I’ve read books I love in first person and in third! Thank you so much, Abigail!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think most writers like writing in third person. I have favorite books both in first and third person, and I’m not sure which one I really prefer. There’s definitely pros and cons to both. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for linking to my post. One young adult novel I did enjoy recently that is not in first person is called Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo. I think if I had been in Angie’s head the story, it would have been a lonely, sad place that got dragged down and didn’t allow much of a story to escape.

    I do know that many editors will ask a writer to re-do a work in progress in in a different perspective to see what is added or lost. Oftentimes, from what I’ve heard, the change is made from first to third.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! I really enjoyed it.
      I’ve heard of Fat Angie in passing, but haven’t seen it myself. I’ll have to check it out.
      That’s interesting, but it makes sense. I’ve read some books and thought so much could have been added just by having a different perspective on the story, so I’m sure there were some dramatic transformations on some books! It would be fun if an author released a rough(er) draft of a popular published book, just so readers could see all that went into writing and editing and changing it.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ooh, before this post, I’d never really considered 1st person writing too much. Sure, I was taught about the three different styles, but your post gave me fresh eyes on the *why* part. I really love to read 1st person books… but the author revolves around different perspectives. 3rd is great for description whereas 1st is great for in-depth views. Huh. Neat.
    Anyway, great post Grace!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you liked the post! I think third provides a more standing-back perspective, and first you feel like you’re right there, too. It’s fun to think about!
      Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I personally prefer third-person when reading YA fiction, and I definitely prefer writing that way. However, I’ve found that first-person isn’t anywhere as difficult as writing in third-person! *Shudders* From personal experience. xD

    Anyway, great post! I agree that first-person is so prevalent in YA fiction nowadays, and sometimes that can make it untasteful. But when it’s pulled off really well, it becomes a real treat. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Definitely agree! First person can be amazing when done well, but third-person also has many benefits. It seems most writers prefer writing in first person! I guess it makes sense, because that’s how we’re used to writing and thinking.
      Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I like different books from different POVs! I agree that the first person can limit your perspective on the story. I really love it when an author pulls off multiple 1st person POVs, so you don’t have that problem!! Sabaa Tahir did this **amazingly** well in her Ember in the Ashes series. Favorite 1st person book is of course The Book Thief 😍 I’ve read some awesome third person books as well though.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love both first and third-person POVs, but I’m definitely going to out right say that writing in 3rd person is really hard! I loved your post, Grace. It completely explained the first-person scenario!
    I personally feel like first person seems more modern, I guess, in YA novels, but that’s probably just me. Oh, and I feel that 1st person gives you MUCH more insight into the protagonist’s head. Of course, there are exceptions! I really enjoyed this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Oddity! First person does seem more modern, I agree. It definitely has that ability to make a story feel personal. I like reading both first and third, but first is definitely more fun to write! Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I like reading in 1st person because you see what they think and feel. For example, I LOVE the Percy Jackson, Heros of Olympus, and Kane Chronicles. In those books you laugh, cry, and and angry with the characters, especially in Percy’s telling of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true! Percy Jackson is a good example. First person does make it easier to see exactly what a character is going through. I really like books that have one or two different narrators both writing in 1st person POV, because then you get two different perspectives and you still feel like you’re right alongside a character.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I think first person narrators are very…comfortable. It’s the default for most books & just what we’re all used to. Whenever I start a book & realise it’s not first person, I’m a little apprehensive but I recently read strange the dreamer (which was 3rd person if I remember correctly) and I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT!!
    I don’t think you can really like/dislike first person narratives, I think it’s mainly about how it’s pulled off by the author 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point! It really does come down to how an author does their narrative. If an author is comfortable with a narrative, I think that’s what they should use.
      I had a writing friend who loved writing in third person but because so many books were written in first, tried really hard to write in first person instead, and struggled for a long time. When she switched back to third, her stories were amazing and started getting a lot of praise. So I definitely agree, the author’s work does make a huge difference. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.