The Challenges of First-Person Narrative

“I would so hate to be a first-person character! Always on your guard, always having people read your thoughts!” ― Jasper Forde, Lost in a Good Book


Writing from the first person is a big challenge, I realize it more and more every day. The most important thing is to keep the reader interested at all times, which means that the character has no right to be boring, even for a single moment!

When writing from the first person, it is very important to keep rational balance between narration and dialogue: if I allow my character to ramble, I’ll kill the readers interest in a few pages, but too many dialogues may be killing for the whole novel, too.

Then comes the necessity to follow “show not tell” rule: one of the most difficult tasks, because if I am the one who tells the story, I often have a temptation to simply tell it and go on.

Also, my character needs to have the voice – I mean, my character happens to be the one who experiences stuff and then learns the lessons and makes the conclusions – to accomplish the goal of the whole writing. My character becomes the one who sets the questions and answers them for the reader at the same time: the situation which seldom happens in real life and thus, is difficult to reproduce in a reader-attractive manner.

Finally, if I want to grab the readers’ attention and keep them excited to the very end, my character should continuously explore her own personality and “alter” it as she moves forward with the plot. The gradually accelerating pace of the narration should be inseparably connected with personality dynamics of the main character, and once this person is telling the story, she needs to take every step consciously, but then it is difficult to keep the air of mystery in the book: the story risks to become too predictable to be interesting! This is another challenge for the author.

It seems, I need to be a Mark Twain to do such a thing well enough! Talent, plus wit, plus tremendous life experience, plus really hard work, ah, yes – plus the ability to learn from one’s own mistakes: this is the formula of success for the task of writing a first person narrated story. Quite a complex one, don’t you think? 😉


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  1. Hi Rina,
    I used to drive taxis in Sydney. One day I had one of Australia’s most famous authors, Patrick White, as a passenger. I pretended not to recognise him. As we drove along we went past a man walking along the street. I had seen him several times doing the same, between the same suburbs – always by himself. When I first saw him, I could immediately see that he was ‘different’, that he quite possibly had psychological issues as a result of his difference. He always seemed preoccupied, inward-looking.
    I watched ‘out of the side of my eye’ to see if White would notice him. And he did. His head snapped to the side and he immediately focused on that man with his full attention, like a hawk on its prey (and White was elderly then). He studied him with absolute absorption for as long as he could.
    I also remember that at the end of the trip, White, who was wealthy, tipped me with a 20 cent coin. He handed it to me as though his thumb and index fingers were a pair of tweezers. The expectation that I would express sincere gratitude was palpable.
    He is famous for saying ‘…writing is really like shitting[…] It’s something you have to get out of you. I didn’t write for a long time at one stage, and built up such an accumulation of shit …’

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Phil, Great story! Thank you for sharing it! I am sorry that you had such experience of meeting a famous writer. Honestly, I think he belongs to those who are seeking what I call cheap popularity: it is when a person squeeses himself in order to produce sensational quotations and thus become popular, but never works on growing more witty or ethical as a person. BTW, if I were to compare writing with any physiological function of the body, I would rather compare it with breast feeding, which reflects the role of sharing with others and helping your readers to grow and mature intellectually while reading your book. A real author writes to share, not to shit. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Rina, I relate with your reply. Although White was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize in Literature, I see a connection between a wealthy man giving me a 20 cent tip and particularly how he did so and the quote from him. The, in turn, precise pettiness and deliberate brutality I see in them very much reflect for me the class-based and convict aspect of Australian (particularly Sydney) culture (I refer to Australian culture as ‘convict culture’). There is no sign of a bigness of spirit in either White’s action or words. He, interestingly, also had a loathing for such aspects of Australian culture. Phil

        Liked by 1 person

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