I use first person narrator in many of my stories. I find the level of intimacy I can connect with in the character makes the experience feel more authentic.
I also enjoy the unreliability of the first person narrator. Although I don’t intend to make my main characters questionable, all first person accounts must be met with skepticism.
There’s one possible downside to the first person narrator and I’m certain many writers have experienced the fan who believes they understand the author based on a story which utilized the “I”.
One reader contacted me convinced Dad Shining was about me. “This is a true story, I bet!” He wrote.
This is complimentary in the fact that the story must have been realistic enough for this reader to believe and enjoy it.
However, Dad Shining (originally published in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal) is written from a male point of view experiencing a life event incomparable to what a woman could experience.
There’s not much a writer can do about being mistaken for their narrator except to gently correct the reader without offending them or merely thank them. I said, “thank you for reading.”
My main character in West End is a young woman, and I did use an area close to where I grew up. A number of readers have attempted to call me out on that. One reader wrote, “I know most of this is you, except for the part of leaving the boy.” Another reader, convinced it was me believed I’d been married before and left them to change my name and start a new life incognito.
This did bother me to some extent; the woman in West End is in some ways stuck in life, and while that might be my fear, it is not me.
Still others found the first person narrator unreliable enough to question her sanity and ask me if she was seeing spirits. These questions I rather enjoyed. One character I had intended to be questionable, but when asked about another – I don’t want to say as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone! – I was blown away!
And that is the benefit and, perhaps, curse of first person narrator. The connection is so authentically intimate that you might convince readers it’s you; And you might just convince them the narrator is a little off her rocker!
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