When should we use first-person perspective? I keep seeing everywhere in writing spaces that a lot of people hate first person just on principle. They say it’s juvenile and lesser than third person. I know randos on the internet aren’t exactly an authority, but I notice it’s a very common opinion I see around, and it’s making me worry that people won’t want to read my book, which is in first person. So what kind of stories, if any, benefit from first-person narration? Is it actually juvenile? Is there something wrong with writing in first person?Ze
It sounds like you’re encountering casual misogyny. Don’t get me wrong, there are more genuine reasons to not like first person, which I’ll get to in a bit. But in this case, the fact that these criticisms are “on principle” and are using the word “juvenile” is extremely telling.
I have more on casual misogyny in this article, but basically, it’s people’s reflexive tendency to trash talk anything associated with women. In this case, first-person is a popular choice for YA books (hence “juvenile”), and YA is associated with women. Unfortunately, I don’t have any numbers, but it very much looks like books written by women featuring female main characters are much more likely to be shelved as YA than similar books by and about men. We’ve also seen cases where women’s books are referred to as YA by the media when they are actually adult books.
These internet randos are probably thinking of YA women’s works like Twilight or The Hunger Games, which are both written in first person. First person is probably popular in YA because those works are more likely to use a single viewpoint, and it’s great for modern-feeling prose with a lot of sass or quips. But there are also lots of popular adult works using it, such as the Murderbot Diaries or the Dresden Files. There’s also books like The Martian, which use epistolary first person. It’s a huge category of narration employed by countless works. And hopefully I don’t have to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with YA.
In summary, saying that first person is bad is laughable. If we listen to people like that, we’d have to write every single work in third-person limited past tense – and that would just be sad. You should ignore those remarks and reassess whether those writing spaces are places you want to be. I’ve seen writers make poor decisions for their stories because they’re afraid of that kind of shaming. If it’s affecting your emotional well-being, get out of there.
Are there some reasons people don’t like the first person? Sure, just like there is for any narration style. I know someone who doesn’t like first person simply because she feels like the “I” refers to her personally, which isn’t the case for most readers. Any narration style will also encourage some habits over others – both good and bad. Stories told as a first-person character retelling are more likely to ramble and might slow the narration down too much. A person who is more irritated by that than by, say, the excessive distance which often comes with third person, might start avoiding first-person works.
Your choice of narrative style is largely an artistic decision. However, by default first person is a great choice if:
- You’re only using one viewpoint.
- You want your work to have a modern feel, maybe because it takes place in the present day or future.
- You want to get deep into your main character’s head.
- You like first person!
Consider combining it with present tense for a story that’s riveting and highly immersive or doing a past-tense character retelling if you want a fun conversational voice.
I’m sure your book is just fine.