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One side of everything is what I like to call first-person singular.  So, not ‘Tom, Dick, or Harry did this, that, or the other,’ but ‘I did this, I did that, I did. Me.’  One side of everything is exactly what a writer shows to a reader when they write in the first-person, and while this approach may, at first glance, seem to offer a very narrow and limited range of creative options, in many circumstances what could be viewed as a handicap can actually be an enormous advantage.

For a start, telling a story in the first-person gives a writer licence to really go to town on characterisation.  It gives a writer the opportunity to be the characters in their own novels and short stories in a very intimate, visceral sense, to get inside their characters’ heads and to wear their skins, and to give vivid expression to their deepest fears and highest pleasures.  It allows a writer to reveal all the shades and hues of character by presenting aspects of the world refracted through the prism of their characters’ individual personalities, and not through the hopefully omnipotent pronouncements of a very minor deity – the writer who is forever standing back, well out of the stream of action, watching, not experiencing, not tasting, not feeling, not hurting… not whatevering.

In my opinion, first-person singular is especially effective in the crime, mystery, suspense, and horror genres, allowing the writer the luxury of telling their story entirely from the POV of their main character, whether they’re a cop, a PI, a vampire or other entity, or an intended victim.  This is a great tactic in terms of generating and maintaining the atmosphere of mystery and suspense in a story, because each new twist and turn, each fresh shock and scare, each startling new development and discovery can be fully shared between character and reader, just as it was between character and writer.  When this works just right, it’s like there’s a direct connection between writer and reader, even though they’re separated by time and space, all of it channelled through the medium of the character, all three sharing the same identical experience.

And of course, writers don’t have to restrict themselves to only one first-person narrative per story.  The more the merrier, if the story demands it, as it might well if multiple viewpoints are necessary to get to the truth.  To tell the story, the whole story, and nothing but the story.

For example, imagine relating the account of a famous, elaborate, and dangerous magic trick, with the first-person narratives of the illusionist and the narrative of a member of his audience running in tandem – the narratives will be very different, but they will both be the truth, or aspects of the truth, as the characters see it.  One will focus on the glamour, the danger, and the mystery of the illusion, while the other will concentrate on the mundane realities behind the business and showmanship, and the reader gets to experience both and blend them together into a satisfyingly complete whole.

And sometimes one first-person POV simply isn’t enough.

In the story of a broken marriage, there would have to be at least two, wouldn’t there?  (And don’t forget the family dog’s first-canine narrative, because he’s the one the estranged couple are really fighting over, not the kids.)  Or how about a big time con-trick, or an armed robbery, or a natural disaster, or a court case…. Imagine all those first-person narratives, all those character-shaped individual perceptions of the same basic story, offering writer and reader alike with a complete holographic picture of the full story.  The full truth.

Unless one or more of these first-person narrators are pathological liars, that is…

But that’s a different, and possibly more interesting, story.


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