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  • Writer's pictureWendiFournier

How to Avoid Over-Powering First-Person Narrative

Updated: May 23, 2022

A short time ago, stories told by first-person narrative were few and far between. Visit a local bookstore and browse the young adult section today and you’ll discover first-person narrative has become increasingly popular these days.

Before we hit third gear, let’s first take a look at the difference between first-person and third-person with a quick example:

First-Person: “I can’t drive 55.”

Third-Person: “She can’t drive 55.”

Simple enough, right?

First-person narrative, while my favorite point of view to read and write, can be tricky to nail down. When writing in this type of narrative it’s easy to slip into self-centered telling, in which the narrator overpowers the story and pushes supporting characters, even the plot, to the backseat.

Here are a few writing tips on how to avoid over-powering first-person narrative when writing a story:

“I” Is the First Word of Every Sentence. Yes, your MC should be at center stage, but not so much to exclude all other subjective nouns.

Bad: I ran through the woods, crunching twigs and pinecones beneath my bare feet. I could hear the thrashing of shoes hitting the forest floor behind me. Ahead, I could see a light from a window giving me hope to keep running. I leaped on the front porch and pounded on the door.

Good: My bare feet crunched twigs and pinecones as I ran through the woods. Behind me, shoes thrashed the forest floor. Through a gap in the trees, a buttery lighted window provided hope. I leaped on the front porch and pounded on the door.

Telling Thoughts. When writing with a first-person narrator, everything you write comes straight out of the main character’s head. What they see, taste, smell, hear, touch, feel, and think. You don’t need to clarify an MC’s thoughts through the use of italicized words.

Bad: I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I’ve only ever been a true friend to Danielle, right? I thought to myself. This has Jessica’s name all over it.

Good: This couldn’t be happening. I’ve only ever been a true friend to Danielle, right? This has Jessica’s name all over it.

Unnecessary Narrative. Writing in first-person narrative doesn’t mean the reader has to know every detail the character is thinking. Allow action and dialogue to move the story forward.

Bad: “What’s got you so down?” asked Dylan.

I slam my locker shut. Dylan doesn’t have a clue to the type of day I’ve had. He has no idea what a pain it is to repaint a racecar. To make matters worse the only paint I have left is green and white. I can’t stand green and white. Reminds me of Michigan State. I’m a Wolverine fan. Everyone knows that.

Good: “What’s got you so down?” asked Dylan.

I slammed my locker shut. “You have no clue the type of day I’ve had.” I stuffed my jumpsuit into a duffle bag, looked around to make sure no one could hear, then whispered in his ear, “Gotta repaint the racecar. And the only colors left are green and white. You know how painful that is to a Wolverine fan?”

First-person narrative is an exciting way to create a story readers fall in love with. When done right, you can effectively communicate how each moment feels, connecting the reader to your story on a deeper, more intimate level. Go ahead, give it a try!

Life’s too short to drive slow. Get out there and smoke those tires!


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