Is first person #POV better in short stories than in novels?


J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye









It’s one thing to write in first person for a short piece like this blog.  I do it all the time. But in longer works of fiction, I have shied away from it because of its inherent limitations. So far in my writing, I have utilized some variation on a third party point of view.

So, the other day I found myself writing a piece that I had targeted to be about 5,000 words, a fictional memoir.  I guess because it was a memoir, I fell into first person and ran with it.

I made some interesting discoveries along the way.

The main thing was the immediacy of the feel that first person produced.  Rather than looking at the world as if I were a camera attempting to capture a good shot of the scene, I became the person caught up in the action.

Another thing the POV produced in me was something akin to role playing, like a person portraying a character on a stage.  I haven’t done any acting, so I don’t really have the experience necessary to make this connection, but I assume that actors feel as if they have taken on the personality of the character they are portraying.  They become someone else for that brief time on stage.

By the way, my piece was satirical, so I got to play a real smart-ass, something that doesn’t come naturally to me. (That last sentence was what we writers refer to as “irony,” I think. Either that or a flat-out lie.)

To me there is a subtle but real distinction between identifying with a character as I write from a third person POV and the sense of taking on the character’s persona as I write in first person.

As I write this blog, I see that I am using a lot of “feeling” words,  describing something personal or intimate, rather than being a detached observer.

But the question I began with was whether first person POV works better in short bursts than in long narratives.  Since I haven’t written anything longer than 5,500 words in first person, I can’t speak to how it would work for me.  I know there are notable examples of first person books, so some great writers have made it work. (Hence the picture of J.D. Salinger whose Catcher in the Rye was in first person).

So what’s your take on it?  Have you written much in first person?  Do you avoid it like the plague?  Do you embrace it in short form fiction and stay away from it in longer works?  Have you written a full-length work in first person?

Happy Saturday.  Let me hear from you.

[This post first ran on VG in July 2012.]


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