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.
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
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