A problem with 1st person

I was thinking today about how many books I’ve read lately that didn’t feel satisfying due to the lack of plot development.  Often, the conflict between protagonist and antagonist in particular is flat and one dimensional.  In particular, the antagonist isn’t developed into a fully rounded character with his or her own drive, agenda and needs.   Most of the action revolves around the protagonist (usually pursuing an evolving relationship with another main character), and the antagonist is left as some vague threat in the background.  The antagonist rocks up every now and then to cause some grief, but we don’t really get a sense of what they want or why they want it.

Then I realised another interesting fact.  Most if not all of these books are in the first person.  As someone who writes in first person as well as third, I’m well aware of the drawbacks in terms of limited point of view.  I considered if this is another drawback, the lack of opportunity to fully explore motivation and character.

I came to the conclusion that it isn’t an inevitable consequence of first person, just poor craft.  I cringe in saying that, knowing how hard it is to write a book, let alone get one published!  But I’m someone who loves to read, and I can see how much more compelling a story is if the author has taken the time to get to know all of their main characters, not just the ‘good guys’.  At the very least, you have to know what they want and why.  Writing in first person is no excuse for not doing your character homework.

Now, hopefully I can remember that in my own work …


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Graham Storrs
    Dec 07, 2009 @ 20:06:36

    Interesting. I hadn’t noticed, but I will watch out for this now. It will be good to bear in mind next time I write a first person story.


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