Saturday, February 17, 2007

more on first person

It's been an interesting discussion in the comments on an earlier post on first person.

In my original post I now think I was edging towards some sort of age-based theory about person. Before I get into too much trouble, I want to say: There are no rules, and what is right depends on the author, the book, the characters.

But…

In early chapter books I think the first person (often past tense) has a direct appeal. As there are more words and more of a story 3rd person either constrained to one character or more omniscient is attractive. At this age I remember loving the sense of security that someone (an adult) was telling me a good story - that I was in safe hands. I liked being able to adventure securely (often I think there was an adult mentor figure in the stories as well). Is this why fantasy is so strong in these years? Is first person less common in fantasy. Then things get a bit more edgy and different in the teen years. We start to see peers in different ways. Teenagers are working to define themselves, often against what is around them, and to test the authenticity of those boundaries. And these years are direct and sensory, with an immediacy suited to the first person.

I suppose there is a genre component: historical fiction tends to be 3rd person, as does fantasy and contemporary reality fiction is often first.

Now I can't wait to hear other theories…

4 comments:

Delwyne said...

What about first person, present tense? Now that's tricky as a writer but if it's right the momentum and pace can work very well. I agree that first person is a good technique for teen readers rather than primary children, and I can relate to what you are saying Andrew about the 'comfort' of being told a story from the younger readers' perspective. I have found first person present tense, perhaps for shorter novels, works well for teen boys especially those who might need some encouragement to read. As a writer this is quite a challenging balance, as the Black Dog Blog commentary suggests. I am working on my third novel (of many mss) using first person present tense and find it a stimulating if challenging technique. My novel WHEELS has proven very appealing to teens, boys in particular, and is written in first person present tense.

Andrew's black dog blog said...

as you say Delwyne, first person present tense is tough for the writer but does work well for teen boys

Kelly G said...

I've been thinking about this alot lately, having mostly written historical fiction in first person (for young readers) and still struggling with the most recent ms in third person which just doesn't feel as natural to me. You lose that directness and immediate connection, even if you gain greater perspective, which you (here we go in second person now) sometimes need.
Shifting around third person POV is fun, if demanding on the writer, and I've played with first person in several voices for adults.
I think in the end it comes down to the demands of the character and story, and we all ought to be confident writing in any POV and any tense.
If only we were.

Andrew's black dog blog said...

Oddly I was thinking about it quite a bit too and had happened on the reverse conclusion that third person is best for historical fiction for young readers. What the readers gain is a sense of confidence in being in the hands of a narrator, which I think young readers value in particular. First person is also uncomfortably modern in flavor - it's seems to have a present tense quality to it. But then I agree it depends on the demands of the story …