Tips for aspiring writers – part 2

Amanda Sington-Williams on: First person narrators.


Choosing the type of narrator to tell your story is as important as knowing your character. If you choose to tell your story using a first person narrator, some readers might be confused about who the narrator is and who the author is. Authors must be clear about their role, so that they don’t slip into autobiographical mode. This is why character building is so important.

When writing in first person, the narrator is the character that drives the story. The author must be able to ‘possess’ their character so it reads authentically. Using a first person narrator can be limiting, as the view of the world is restricted to how he/she sees it.

You might choose a first person present to narrate your story, or a first person past. Alternatively you might use a combination of the two.

First person present gives a strong sense of immediacy and allows the narrator to explore the consciousness of the character. It has a sense of ‘freshness’ about it; events happen as the narration unfolds. One of the main disadvantages of using first person present is that the narrator is locked into the character as events occur and it can be difficult to move the action on. Using first person present can also be difficult to sustain whilst writing a full length novel.

First person past is a good vehicle for in-depth characterisation. Because the narrator is wise after the event(s), he/she is able to reflect on the incidents which form the story. The narration can be moved around in time and locality. One of the disadvantages of using first person past is that there can be a temptation for the author to be too analytical about the narrator’s past. Spending too much time on the narrator’s ‘back story’ can also frustrate the reader if it holds up the narrative.


Amanda and I would love to hear your views so please feel free to leave your comments below. And if you’re considering the use of third person narrator, don’t miss the next instalment on April 11th!


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