According to great authors, such as Stephen King, first person narration is usually the first method of writing for new authors and is still even used by many established authors. As you can see, this style comes with certain strengths, such as simplicity, accessibility and directness. However, it also comes with its own set of drawbacks that should be taken into consideration. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of first person narration:
List of Advantages of First Person Narration
1. It is accessible.
It has been claimed by many authors that this style of writing is accessible as they can use their voice for narration, which means that they will have an immediate connection to their creations. As for the narrators, they will have a better understanding of the characters who might otherwise they have to imagine, giving them a strong starting point for the story. Generally, accessibility comes automatically with this style.
2. It will put readers inside the narrator’s mind.
Immediately, narration places readers inside the narrator’s head, allowing for an intimate portrayal of emotions and other thoughts—the narrator will be able to communicate effectively how every moment feels and deliver sight, smell, sound, touch and taste all through his prism. His love, hopes, fears and despair will be brought to the readers directly with maximum impact. He can also put across the motivations of the main character, and his reactions to situations will be effectively imparted, creating a strong sense of empathy in the readers.
3. It is direct.
The directness in first person narration will make the author’s work so easy that he would often repeat it. For example, “Interview with the Vampire” has used character Louis as first person narrator, which made the novel ran itself off speedily that the author duplicated such a feat with “The Vampire Lestat”, which sees the vampire Lestat as the first-person protagonist this time.
4. It provides clear identity to the text.
By writing in first person, an author will be able to deliver an entire story in his narrator’s voice, which can give a clear identity to the text and submerge readers further into a world he is creating. He can also hide expositions within a stream of consciousness and turn them into musings and thoughts.
5. It makes it easier for the narrator to say whatever he wants.
One great advantage of first person narration is that a narrator can say whatever he wants, which is impossible with third-person narration, and he can be completely excused for this because it can be part of his character. Also, the narrator would not even have to be the writer’s protagonist, though he would be the protagonist in his story. Taking for example a narration of the life of Christ—Jesus would be the protagonist and Satan the antagonist, while Judas would be the lead character and narrator in his own story arc.
List of Disadvantages of First Person Narration
1. It is limited to a single story thread.
While King agrees that first person narration is used by many new and established writers, he prefers third-person narration as this allows him to work on a large canvas, which is limited in first person narration. It would be difficult for an author who uses first person to move through a number of sub-plots and various narrative threads. Its disadvantage of being limited to a single story thread will also make descriptions of the characters and the narrator problematic if the story is stuck with only a single pair of eyes.
2. It would risk making the narrative self-indulgent in the narrator’s emotions.
This style of writing would risk narrative becoming self-indulgent in the emotions of the narrator, as it will see constant self-referencing and extreme emotional responses, which can drown out the story making it become too much. Unlike in passive narration, the narrator would be in the scene, but would not be doing too much, just watching the other characters with no feelings or reactions.
3. It tends to be bias.
Since this type of writing is told from the perspective of only a single narrator, the story would naturally become biased by the filter of the character who tells the story, creating the literary problem that is known as “unreliable narrator”, which entails that the storyteller is either purposefully distorting the truth or having their own understanding of the characters and events.
4. It narrows the experience.
First person narration would limit reader experience, as the readers would only experience the narrator’s side of the story. It also restricts the writer, as he can only reveal what the narrator would see and think, considering that this character should always be on stage or observing it. As previously implied, this style would make it difficult to add a subplot to a story, as readers cannot entirely see into the minds of other characters. Moreover, the sub-plots would need to involve the narrator or switch narrators to another first-person perspective, which is not truly feasible.
5. It would be difficult to describe the narrator.
Describing a narrator would be almost impossible within a first person narration, unless there would be a scene where he needs to describe the way how they look, which is not advised in writing, as it is referred to as a terrible cliché and even completely unnecessary. Considering that the narrator tends to have less understanding of the story’s big picture, the writer needs to be careful of not giving him too much awareness or knowledge, while sufficiently hinting that readers will be able to surmise the overall plot at a certain point in time, which is difficult to pull off.
6. It would make it difficult for the narrator to capture the character.
To be successful, this style of writing should embody the way the narrator speaks, and some dialects would make the piece difficult to read. This means that the writer should ensure the narrator capture the character and carefully plan how he talks to the reader, which can be difficult.
So, there you have it! Based on the advantages and disadvantages listed above, would you go for first person narration when writing a story, or not?
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.