Before I say anything, let me state that I’m not criticizing this particular style of writing. I’ve read a few books in it that I’ve liked perfectly well, but overall, there’s one thing about myself I’ve really noticed lately: I do not like reading books that are written in first-person perspective.
It’s not just reading them, I guess – I can’t write in first-person perspective, either. Or rather, I can, I just don’t enjoy it.
Books in first-person perspective seem to be a rapidly growing trend. I remember a time when finding a novel in first-person was not unheard of, but was pretty unusual. Now, picking up books off the tables at Barnes and Noble, you’re hard pressed to find a recent release that isn’t written in first-person. And every time I picked one up, I found myself a little more irritated by it. What bothered me most of all, though, was why? Why do I have such an aversion to first-person perspective? Why does it make me grit my teeth and pull sour faces whenever I see it used?
Then, this week, I finally figured it out. As I sat on the couch, curled up in the corner with my Nook and a copy of The Hunger Games, it finally hit me – I hate books that are written in first-person perspective because all too often, they lack depth.
A good writer can overcome this. Some do, but all too often, what we really get is just a shell of what the story could have been. There’s a rule for writing that I hear over and over again, everywhere I go, and that rule is show, not tell. This is what makes a story strong. The vivid descriptions of everything around the characters, the deep portrayal of emotion we see in characters through action and expression, rather than being privy to their innermost thoughts.
First-person books, as they have a narrator, don’t have any show. Everything in them is tell. Everything you get to experience is spoon-fed to you from the narrator’s perspective. The narrator tells you what to think of other characters, coloring your opinion of them because you’re forced to look at them through the narrator’s tinted glasses.
And I can’t help but think of the missed opportunities. There’s a million places in most first-person books where the story could have been so much stronger if it’d been written in another perspective. Imagine the narrator seeing their own eulogy and wondering how their family is taking it, thinking that they’ve died. Then imagine how much deeper the impact would be if the scene had, instead, been the family seeing the eulogy. Thinking their loved one is gone, being crushed by the loss. And then the very next chapter, we meet up with the character thought dead. They’ve seen their eulogy, we see how concerned they are for their family, how desperately they wish they could get to them and let them know they’re all right. In the span of a few paragraphs, you can move a reader from grief over the loss of a character they loved, to hope, realizing they’re still alive – and finishing with anxiety of not knowing how they’re going to make it through and reunite with their loved ones.
First-person perspective robs you of all this emotion, because everything you see is one-sided.
It’s not that I think nobody should write in first-person perspective, it can be done quite well. But with the increase in its popularity and the overall drop in literary standards over the past few years, I can’t help but think that many authors use it as a crutch, letting it cover up their own shortcomings by using an easier method of storytelling.
At the end of the day, though, I think the easiest way to explain it is this:
Would you rather watch a movie, yourself, or have a friend describe the entire thing to you?