Today I’ll answer two different readers who’ve asked questions on writing a novel in first person.
Crystal posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hi, I am currently trying to write a first person chapter book and it’s going well, but I feel like I’m using “I” too much when I’m writing. Is it okay to use “I” over and over again?
Randy sez: Yes, that’s pretty much your only option.
Read a good novel written in first person. For example, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. The protagonist uses “I” all over the place. Did you notice? Neither did I. The pronoun “I” is pretty much invisible. Use it whenever you need it. If you don’t need it, don’t use it.
Deb posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
If I am writing in 1st person for my main protagonist, what do I do when that person isn’t in a particular chapter. Thank you.
Randy sez: That’s a problem, but only if it you let it be a problem. In scenes where your protagonist is missing, you’ll have to choose a different character to be your point-of-view character. (Because every scene needs a POV character.) The question is really how you handle those other POV characters—should you write them in first-person or third-person? You don’t want to confuse your reader.
Most novels are written in third person. Most of them have multiple characters who serve as POV characters in different scenes. Nobody gets confused by this.
So what prevents you from having more than one first-person POV character in different scenes of your novel?
If you do this, you need some way to let the reader know who the POV character is for each scene. An easy way to do that is to make a subtitle for each scene showing the name of the POV character. For example, “Luke” or “Leia” or “Darth Vader.” Center this in its own line and italicize it if that looks better to you. Then the reader knows who “I” is for every scene.
Or you can write in first-person in scenes where your protagonist is the POV character, and you can switch to third-person in scenes having other POV characters. Diana Gabaldon did that in her novel Dragonfly in Amber, and nobody got confused.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.
Glen Goddard says
I really enjoy the Q&A. Varied subjects about things that I may not have considered as a new writer.
Cheryl Sterling says
Most of my books are in 3rd person, but I had one character who refused. She wouldn’t talk to me unless I wrote in 1st. That book switched between the two.
Yes, I know, I’m the author and I control the story, but I know when to accept defeat.
SD Miller says
I had too many 1st person POVs because I thought I had to either do 1st throughout or 3rd throughout, and my non-verbal character really needed to be in 1st. Tried a prologue in 3rd, then realized the mix of 1st and 3rd works, so I changed all my less important characters to 3rd. (And dropped the prologue because it was evil.)
Before the change I was able to try my first 10 pages in a contest. The judges were _very_ confused by my transitions, and didn’t realize the hero in the 1st chapter was a different person from the villain in the 2nd chapter. Bad transitions for one. And the genre is one where more than 2 POVs is rare. It wasn’t a matter of both men sounding the same: One judge wrote, “I thought he was a teenager and now he seems much older.”
I learned a valuable lesson from that contest: Transitions matter! A little mystery on page 1 is good: The the characters, location, and story goal unfold for the reader. But at a transition to a new scene or new chapter, the reader wants to orient within as few lines as possible. “Is this the same POV character?” “Where are we now?” “What day is it?” Having one each 1st person male and female characters is about the limit, unless you do as you suggest and make the character’s name part of the chapter’s metadata.
My old 1st sentence, chapter 2, chapter title _Dustin “Hunter” Holt_
They walked in the door and I froze, the plastic straw dangling from my lips.
My new 1st sentence, chapter 2, chapter title _Predator Among Prey_
Dustin Holt sat in the sandwich shop, wrapped in his man-shape.
The rest of the short paragraph sets the scene and his state of mind before “they” walk in the door.
Point is: Transitions matter!