Writing Mistakes – 1st Person Narrator

Writing Mistakes: Is Your First-Person Narrator
Overpowering Your Story?

Stories told in first-person narrator (“I went…” vs. the
third-person narrator “she went…”) are increasingly
popular, particularly in YA fiction. This perspective can be
tricky to get right. The first-person tends to lapse into selfcentered
telling so the main character overpowers the story
at the expense of other characters and the plot.

Common pitfalls.
Beginning every sentence with “I.”

 

The first-person tempts writers into focusing on the
narrating character and excludes subjective nouns. The
result is a boring string of sentences all featuring the same
subject. Mix and match subjects to put life into your syntax.

Wrong: I fled down the stairs, heart pounding. I could hear
the giant clomping after me. Ahead, I could see the cellar
door offering me the chance to escape and hide. I reached
the door, wrenched it open, and dove inside.

Right: My heart pounded as I fled down the stairs. Behind
me, the giant clomped after me. Five feet ahead, the cellar
door offered an escape. I reached the door, wrenched it
open, and dove inside.

Telling thoughts instead of showing.

In first-person, everything you write is straight out of the
main character’s brain. No need to clarify the character’s
thoughts using italics or qualifying them with an “I
thought” tag.

Wrong: I couldn’t believe this was happening. Giants don’t
really exist, do they? I thought to myself. Maybe I’m dreaming.

Right: This couldn’t be happening. Giants didn’t really
exist, did they? Maybe I was dreaming.

Inserting lengthy narrative at the expense of action and dialogue.

First-person tempts the writer to share everything the
character is thinking. Beware of lengthy narrative rabbit
trails. Allow action and dialogue to carry the story.

Wrong: “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked. I
heaved a sigh. Kirsten had no idea how insane my life had
become. She had no idea that giants—huge and ugly and
stinky—were after me… [Plus long description of giants,
narrator’s life, history of friendship etc.]

Right: “What’s up with you lately?” Kirsten asked. I
heaved a sigh. “You have no idea how insane my life has
become.” I threw my backpack into my locker, shot a
glance up and down the hallway, then whispered in her ear,
“Giants! Big ones!”

Include witty, conflict-ridden dialogue to convey the
important facts about giants, narrator’s life, history of
friendship, etc.