Is First Person the Right Person?

So I’ve been contemplating perspectives in fiction, and if you’re like me you might have trouble choosing the one that is best suited to the story that you are telling.  Now I grant you, not all stories need to be limited to just one perspective type.  You may find it necessary to switch between perspectives and styles, especially if you are telling a story within a story (see my narrative framing post for more on this).  But ultimately it is my belief that the kind of story you are choosing to write should help to inform you on the perspective, because some perspectives are just simply better than others at certain things.

Now far and away my favorite genera of creative writing is speculative fiction, sometimes called weird fiction.  So let’s unpack why the first person perspective might be a good choice with this type of story in mind; because, to be honest with you, I think weird fiction and the first person perspective go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

The Limitation of Knowledge

First person stories are ones that are told through the eyes of a character, and only through those eyes.  Readers will be given only the experiences and thoughts of that one character, so in turn they are limited to only the five senses that character is employing at that time.  So often in life you may find yourself with only half the answer, or never really get to know why something is the way it is.  In a story that is more about atmosphere and dealing with the here-and-now you couldn’t ask for a better perspective.

On the one hand you have the character.  Their hopes and drives, their misconceptions and cunning, everything good and bad that they bring to the table.  On the other hand you have the plot of the story, the hard and fast series of events that are going to raining down upon the world of your story.  When you smash them together you get a narrative that picks its way through those plot points, never experiencing them fully.  This can be a great thing when you are trying to hide something from the reader, a surprise twist for example.  You can lead them on with what the character experiences and thinks and then Wham!  They’ll be none the wiser.

Verisimilitude

Since the dawn of language human beings have been recounting their experiences with one another.  It’s an interaction that we are all familiar with and can instantly slide into.  So when telling a story that would normally be outside of the usual realm of experiences a first person perspective can help to lessen that shock of the wholly foreign, and provide a more gradual ramp of credibility.  Ramp of Credibility, is that a thing?  I like the sound of that…

Ramp of Credibility
Copyright © 2018 Matthew Tansek. All Rights Reserved.

You may not totally believe the person that is recounting the tale to you.  They may in fact be a foaming at the mouth, shoving bugs up their nose, unreliable narrator, but that’s a judgment call that we all have to make.  Even if your readers only believe half of what is being reported to them as actual in-world fact, that’s OK.  Having that inner contemplation of what is genuine and what is filtered or madness can be just as enjoyable.

Proximity

The first person point of view allows a reader to really get in close with the character that they are reading about.  It lets them in and almost allows their consciousness, as they are experiencing your story, to become the character in question and feel like they are participating in the course of events.  You couldn’t ask for a more intimate situation, and the closer you can bring the reader in, the more you’ll have to leverage when you start ramping up the plot.

 

Genera fiction, especially speculative fiction is all about telling a tale that couldn’t happen in real life.  It relies on internal logics and in-world machinations that may be wholly foreign to reader’s minds more accustomed to the humdrum of reality.  The first person perspective aids the writer in conveying the story, and I think should be seriously considered when composing this type of fiction.

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

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