Using Close First Person in your Writing
Read handout and discuss close first person:
In fiction the story is usually told in first or third person and most often in past tense.
First person means that the narrator is one of the characters and therefore can only describe what that character knows, or witnessed and even if the story is being told long after it is supposed to have happened the narrator cannot see inside the head of any other character to explain their thoughts.
Dialogue enables characters to speak their thoughts, and adverbs (used sparingly!) can give some insight to mood but it is rather contrived as people do not often spell out their thought processes verbally.
Third person narrative allows for the description of the feelings and personalities of characters as the omnipotent narrator can see them all! But it can be pedantic, even boring and perhaps patronising.
The use of character tags and clever pitching of characters can help the reader to get to know them quickly, and done well, close third person enables the reader to get to know something of a character’s personality more naturally, as we do in real life ie. we ‘pick up’ what they are like rather than someone telling us. We are more involved in the unfolding of the person’s character and are not insulted by the writer’s apparent opinion that we need everything spelling out for us.
Close first person, also called free indirect style, is not an alternative style in which to tell a whole story. It is an additional way to give information economically and also assist the reader in getting to know and identify the character.
Close first person is used in third person narrative.
He hesitated, looking at the young woman’s expression. ‘She looks furious,’ he thought to himself. He wondered what he should do.
She looks furious.’ This is direct, or quoted speech (the character’s internal dialogue.)
He wondered what he should do. This is reported or indirect speech (the character’s internal speech reported by the narrator.)
He looked at the young woman. She was clearly furious. What the hell should he do?
This is using close first person which frees the internal ‘speech’ or thought from the flagging ‘ he thought to himself’ ‘he wondered’ and allows the narrative to take on the properties of the character who ‘owns’ the words and the writer to inflect the thought, ‘what the hell should he do’
This brings us close to the first person stream of consciousness in third person narrative.
Write a short piece, in third person about one of the following:
a frightened child
a frustrated shopper
something breaking down
a traffic jam
Spend 10 or 15 minutes writing.
Look through your piece for places where you have used close first person naturally, or where you could use it, and how.
Share and discuss.
Category: Group session. Tags:Creative writing, Language,Characterisation