Posted by: kimberlysullivan | February 7, 2014

First person narrative isn’t serious?

Pen writingNathan Bransford, of the fabulous Nathan Bransford blog – a treasure trove for writers – weighs in on the first person narrative in the post Wait. A first person narrative isn’t serious?

Bransford received numerous comments for an earlier post weighing in on types of narrators, and was surprised by readers’ comments that writing professors, literary agents, and editors had instructed them to stay away from the first-person narrator.

He gives examples of great first-person narratives, including Moby Dick and Lolita, and, more recently, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. All fabulous books, which would have changed entirely had they been written in the third-person narrative.

I write in both first- and third-person narrative, and I admit that many aspects of first-person narrative are more difficult for the writer. But it’s a fabulous tense for really allowing the reader into the mind of the protagonist, for seeing events through his or her eyes, and reasoning with his or her brain.

It’s even better when the protagonist turns out to be an unreliable narrator, jarring our perceptions after gaining our trust.

Thanks to Nathan Bransford for raising this important issue. Like many, I’m not a believer in the ‘Only-one-correct-way-to-write’ model. I’m glad to see a variety of writing styles and narrative choices (I’ve even read second person that’s worked well, though I could never pull it off myself), so I hope authors won’t shy away from the – ahem- ‘less serious’ narrative style.

And you writers? What do you think about writing in the first person narrative?


  1. Rather crazy I’d say too. I love both and it would be VERY limited to classify 1st person narration in this way. Surely the voice depends upon the story to be told – whether you want to slice close to the bone or move around the action with a bit of space. My novel was written in the first person because I wanted to directly explore the story through my protagonist’s eyes, although my stories are a mixed bag like yours Kimberly!

    • Agree entirely, Catherine. Just finished reading a great novel in first person, and the amount of discomfort I felt around the protagonist’s dysfunctional family was pitch-perfect. I don’t think the author could have achieved this in the same way in third. In writing, I think it’s hard to claim there’s a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’.

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