First person seems natural when we speak about ourselves. In academic writing, however, first-person writing is a huge challenge.
What’s So Special about Writing in First Person?
The biggest challenge with first person writing is to write in an authoritative tone without getting too emotional. When you’re writing about yourself, that’s not an easy goal to meet. Why would the reader spend time with your personal story? Do they have anything to learn from it? If it’s just a random page of your diary, it will hardly get their attention.
Let’s take a book as an example: The Great Gatsby. It’s written in first person. Historically, however, most book before 1900 were written in the third person. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, for example, was written in third person.
What’s the deal about first person vs third person writing? In first-person writing, the tone of the whole piece is voice-driven. You’re not just a narrator describing characters and events. You’re someone who experienced the story.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” That’s how The Great Gatsby begins. This approach immediately gets you into the story. Personality is embedded from the very first sentence of the book. You get the feeling that this will be an emotional story.
The Guide: How to Write in First Person
Are you writing in the first person because your professor gave you such an assignment? Maybe you’re using first-person voice because you finally decided to write your first manuscript? Maybe you’re trying to become a better blogger? It doesn’t matter what your purpose is. These tips for writing in first person are useful for everyone.
- Think of a Good Title
Let’s say your professor tells you to write a first-person essay with your opinions on war. This is the first problem you’ll face: how to title an essay? You can’t just present a paper called What I Think about War. The title has to catch the essence of the paper, but it should also be unique.
Write the essay first. You can start with a working title and think of something better when you’re done. Go through few samples of first-person writing and analyze their titles. What’s special about them?
- Pick the Tense
Both past and present tense work well in first-person writing. There’s no rule, but it’s best to avoid passive voice.
- With present tense, it’s easy to get the story moving forward. Even if the events already happened, you can present them to the reader as they would be unfolding in the present. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, for example, is written in present tense. “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.” See? Only a masterful writer can do it, but it works. When you’re writing an academic paper based on personal opinions, present tense is a logical choice. You’ll use I think, I believe, In my opinion, and similar constructions.
- Past tense is simpler to use when you’re focusing on events that happened. It’s a good choice when you’re writing an essay and you start with an event that defined who you are. It also works for novels. “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” – that’s how Harper Lee started To Kill a Mockingbird. He maintained paste tense in first-person narrative throughout the whole novel.
When you pick the tense, make sure to keep it consistent.
- Set a Distinct Voice
You’re the narrator. When you’re watching a documentary, the narrator’s voice can make or break your experience as a viewer. That’s exactly how important your role as a writer is: you’re creating the experience for your reader.
What age does this narrator have? What background and class? Define the main characteristics and create a voice that reflects them.
- Remember The Narrator’s Blind Spot
When you’re writing in first person, you have to realize that you can’t know how everything happened from the point of view of the other characters. The narrator can’t be a mind-reader. They cannot say what other people are thinking or feeling. They can only tell how they are acting in a given situation they witnessed.
What Is First Person Writing? How Do You Handle the Challenge?
First-person writing has a certain level of unreliability. The foundation is not on statistics and facts. It’s all about your interpretation of things, which may be different from other people’s opinions. However, that doesn’t mean you can fundamentally misinterpret the truth. The narrator cannot be completely unreliable. The narration has to be reliable even when you write in first person. The narrator from Fight Club is not reliable, but he is also mentally unstable. That’s the only situation when total unreliability of the narrator works.
There are so many nuances to first-person writing that it cannot be described in a single guide. The good thing about it is that you don’t need a specific guide. The format is flexible. It’s unlike argumentative essay writing, for example.
The beauty of writing in first person lies in your own perception of things. When you develop your unique voice and you use it to write about events and characters that get the reader’s attention, you can congratulate yourself: you made it.
If it’s hard for you to get to that point, there’s no need to worry. XpertWriters, your custom research paper writing service, is here to help even with first person writing.
It’s Time to Write a Great First Person Narrative
It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on your first novel manuscript or you’re trying to write a paper for school. First-person writing is always challenging. Thanks to the tips we presented above, you can at least make your attempt. Everyone can become a better writer. The most important thing is to practice.
XpertWriters is always on your side. Our professional writers give you tips that help you write better. If you need more help, they can assist you with completing unique content under your instructions. There’s no writing challenge that’s too big for us!