This is topic First Person Writing in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

To visit this topic, use this URL:;f=1;t=005325

Posted by KPKilburn (Member # 6876) on :
I know I saw a thread about writing in the first person, but I can't seem to find it. Can someone point me to the thread or answer this... thanks.

When writing in first person, how do you establish the "timeframe"? For example (and I believe this is what that thread answered), if I write...

"I walked into the room and saw a woman in the shadows. She moved into the light and I recognized her as Janice."

The question is, if the author is writing, then at this time he would already know it was Janice. Would you simply write, "I walked into the room and Janice was standing in the shadows?"

It seems that you'd remove any suspense from the story by doing this too often. Does that mean that some stories are better suited for third person writing?

Can you write first person (effectively)in past tense, but almost as if it's happening in the present (like the first example)?


Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
Well, the narrator knows now that it's Janice, but did not know at the time he walked into the room. I think in first person the narrator can choose to recreate the experience he had at the time of the event, so if he wasn't sure who it was until she moved into the light, and felt uncertainty at the time, that's okay and a legitimate source of suspense.

If uncertainty about her identity isn't material to the plot--and the suspense isn't authentic in the sense of not being a feeling MC would have had--then your second version would be the one to go with.


Posted by Grant John (Member # 5993) on :
I second Talespinner, as a reader I am happy for a first person narrator to recreate confusion.
Posted by kings_falcon (Member # 3261) on :
I found this thread -

First person narrative - how and why -


Posted by InarticulateBabbler (Member # 4849) on :
Now, Survivor's a voice too long among the missing.
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
A first person narrator is permitted to tell the story as a story-teller, and a story-teller might definitely write in the way you describe.

There is a lot of gray area on this one. Depending upon the motives of the story-teller, they need not tell you everything that they knew at the time, let alone what they know now. Telling you everything they know now would be a boring story. Telling you everything they knew at the moment of action is almost always the right thing to do, but you can also establish an unreliable narrator. In fact, I just finished reading a murder mystery written in first person in which the narrator himself was the murderer! The way it was done, it was brilliant and did not feel at all like a cheat, because the narrator was recording the information for others to read and so of course would not want to implicate himself in the crime.

Some stories are more suited to first person than others. But generally speaking, you need to think about who the narrator was then, who he is now, why he's writing the story, and then give him a dramatic voice to tell it.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
I've read two murder mysteries like that, Christine--one by Agatha Christie, and one my M. M. Kaye. Was the book you just read by either author, or is there a third book out there?
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
It was Agatha Christie -- she's so good! I've read 3 books by her now and am planning to get more.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Okay, I know which book you read. She's great fun, so enjoy.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled topic: consider TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The narrator, Scout, was telling the story as an adult, looking back on her childhood, so there were a lot of things she not only knew as a narrator but also understood better than her child-self. However, the story is told from her child-self's point of view and shares only what that child-self knew and understood, and it works powerfully.

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2