Those familiar with my writing style will have noticed that I almost always write in the first person, rather than the more usual third person. That is, I tend to write from the point of a single person as if they telling someone about the events they were experiencing. In this post, I want to go into some of the reasons why this is.
First and foremost, it’s because I primarily write what would be considered post-apocalyptic fiction (mostly with a strong leaning towards zombies, but every now and then I’ll do a zombie-free piece). As a fan of the writing of John Wyndham, and particularly his two most famous post-apocalyptic books, The Day Of The Triffids (which is basically a zombie story without the zombies) and The Kraken Wakes (which is about an alien invasion of sorts), I’m of the opinion that post-apocalyptic stories are best told from the first person perspective. This is because it allows the reader to live the events directly through the eyes of narrator, and know exactly what they are feeling about it. This isn’t to say that I think that it’s impossible to write a great post-apocalyptic novel from the third person perspective, just that I prefer ones written from the first person. Since this is what I prefer to read, then it’s perhaps unsurprising that this is the style I have chosen to primarily work in myself.
Secondly, for me, post-apocalyptic fiction is all about the emotions and reactions of those who find their world suddenly turned upside down, and the best way to experience this by viewing it from inside the main character’s head. That way, you can feel their panic, live their tragedies, ride the emotional roller-coaster with them as they swing from despair to hope and back again. For me, it always seems a little wrong when you read about the emotions someone is feeling from a third person perspective because it leaves me wondering how someone looking at the situation from the outside would be able to know this. It’s like when you hear someone talk about themselves in the third person, it’s not technically wrong, but you know instantly that this is probably someone you don’t want to get cornered by at a social gathering.
Thirdly, I like the idea that different people, even if they go through the same events, will have very different experiences and responses. With the first person perspective, it leaves open the option of revisiting the same events and looking at them from another point of view. This is something which I did in two connected short stories, Rendezvous and The Need To know, each of which told the opposite sides of the same story about two people who become separated during a zombie apocalypse. This is also something which is going to be an important element in the For Those In Peril series of books which I’m currently working on. Each individual book will be narrated by a different individual, so that the world will be seen and experienced through different eyes in each one (even when they are following the same groups of characters). The common theme which connects them, and makes them a series, is, therefore, the world in which the events take place, and the common timeline experienced by each individual as they struggle to survive within it, rather than necessarily the characters themselves (although they will all come together eventually).
Finally, and this is probably quite an important point, I, personally, find the first person perspective much easier to write in. It allows me to keep the story line more linear, and I don’t have to worry about keeping track of who know what. The narrator will only know what he has seen or been told in the story, and nothing more. In addition, I find it easier to work out emotional reactions and responses if I can put myself in the place of the main character, and that is easier when working in the first person.
This having been said, writing from the first person perspective is not necessarily straight-forward and it’s easy to get it wrong. In particular, it’s easy to fall into the ‘we’ trap, especially when talking about the actions of a group of individuals. This trap is where you simply refer to an action as ‘we did this’ and ‘we did that’, rather than describing exactly what went on, and falling in to this trap will leave your story feeling flat and underwhelming. However, handled properly, the first person perspective can be absolutely gripping, more so than almost anything written in the third person.
So, hopefully this provides, for those who might be interested, some insight as to why I write so much from the first person perspective. If you’re a budding writer and want to try working from this point of view for yourself, you can find some handy tips (including how to avoid falling into the ‘we’ trap) can be found in an earlier post on this blog, which you can read here.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.