I recently had an interesting chat with an aspiring author ::waves at Twitter’s @_decode_:: who had some questions about writing in 1st person POV. Like me, she wasn’t sure she felt comfortable enough to do it but one of her characters was seeming insistent (if you write like she and I do, your characters sort of talk to you and you record what’s going on—more on that another time).
Here’s a little of what we chatted about (and what I hope may help you, too) and some additional things to consider:
1.) You need to know your characters amazingly well because writing 1st person POV requires that you step into someone else’s shoes and see through their eyes considering the world as their past experience has colored it. A couple examples:
- If your character is an artist, they will observe the world in a different way (if they’re competent at art). They’ll be more finely attuned to shape, color and texture. They’ll notice things like shadow, contrast and composition. They may relate things they see to their favorite artists, their works or a particular medium they relate to.
- If your character is a writer, s/he will probably (hopefully) have a decent (dare I say fancier) vocabulary—one that’s different from someone in a different sort of trade. Why? Most writers love language. We truly enjoy stringing words together. So a writer’s narrative and parts in dialogue might be a little more flowery or planned (unless s/he saves the nice stuff for writing, and if so, make the distinction clear).
- If your character was a victim of abuse, s/he might react differently to someone reaching out suddenly to shake their hand or giving him/her a hug than a character who has never suffered abuse. Make sure you telegraph his/her past experiences accurately through his/her actions.
- He or she might favor one of their senses. A friend of mine is keenly aware of smell and another (with musical training) is focused on sound. Certain things that don’t bother me will set them off.
3.) Writing in 1st person POV may be frightening at first—accept that. Sometimes the scariest things we try yield the very best results.
4.) Consider the role your 1st person POV actually plays throughout the story. If he or she isn’t around during some important bits, how will you relay that info to readers without too much he-said-she-said?
5.) Take a little time before writing to really get to know your character. Do some character worksheets, maybe a sketch, maybe some lists of things they own or even eat (all of that will tell you interesting tidbits about him/her). Take them “shopping.” Pull out the weekly flyers from the Sunday paper and ask your character what they’d buy and why? Do a playlist that you as an observer relate to them and then a separate one of their favorite songs. Determine their deepest desire and their biggest fear (think of how those will tangle in your story). Consider at least one thing they’d never do (then consider what would finally break them down far enough they'd do it).
"Walk a mile in their shoes" (figuratively) and you'll find you've become very capable of writing in 1st person POV.