Originally posted on my writing blog which was active from 2010 to 2018.
Read using a Seinfeld impersonation: What’s the deal with first person writing?
It seems like nearly every popular book these days is written in first person. And it seems to be a mandatory requirement for the Paranormal/Urban Fantasy genre. They all have the same sort of dry sarcastic narrator. It’s almost like reading a blog post, except a really long one. It’s getting to point where I groan whenever I see another first person book.
This rant was inspired by my reading the the first chapter of Twilight. I figured, since I recently read and liked Hunger Games, I would look at another popular YA book. I couldn’t quite bring myself to buy it, though, so I just got the Kindle sample chapters. It’s in first person. I groaned. Another first person book? With the same dry, sarcastic narrator? Again?? (Twilight also starts out with high school drama, so I won’t be reading any more of it unless I can get it at a serious discount.)
The first first-person books I can remember reading were Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books. So I’ve always considered first person narration to be a device for comedy.
But now there’s Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Name of the Wind*, The Dresden Files, Kushiel’s Dart*, I am Not a Serial Killer, Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, The Iron Druid Chronicles – these are all first person books I’ve seen recently. There’s some comedy, but it’s not really the point of them.
- Kushiel’s Dart and Name of the Wind aren’t comedic, but still first person.
I really don’t get the attraction. Is it easier to write first person narratives? It’s always been pretty easy for me to do so, but then I tend to write in my own voice, which does happen to be kind of snarky. Sort of like this post. I consider it more of a challenge to write in third person, particularly with shifting perspectives. Maybe it’s just that there have been so many commercial successes now with first person sarcasm that everyone is just following the crowd.
Maybe it’s simply impossible to write a first-person narrative without humor. But then I thought about Sherlock Holmes. That’s first person, and there is no trace of humor in the narration. Moby Dick is also first person. I’ve only read the first few pages, but there’s nothing remotely funny about it.