Working Writer Tip: Going For The Jugular

In an online writers’ group, I joined a recent thread about writing in first person.  The majority of responses were reasons not to write in the first person or reasons why some people don’t read novels written in the first person.  Then there was me.  I replied that over time I’ve segued into almost always using first person.  And there’s a reason.

If you want to get really deep into the main character’s head, emotions, fears and life in general… and I do…  there’s no better way to do so than to tell the story exactly as the main character experiences it.  I don’t ever tell the reader what the future holds or what other characters are doing or thinking unless the main character already knows.    

 Any horror movie can illustrate.  Consider the shower scene that seems to be a requirement in such movies.  You know the one, where the heroine is lathering her hair with not a care in the world while the villain creeps up on her with a hatchet and nasty intentions.  There are two ways this scene can be played. 

 In one method, which is similar to third person POV, the audience is jumping up and down in their seats and yelling at the heroine to leave quickly because they already know there’s a villain with a hatchet coming after her.  In the second method, similar to first person POV, the audience doesn’t learn of the villain’s existence until he strikes. The shock that hits the audience as they realize what’s happening at the same instant the heroine learns it, is stunning in a very, very visceral way.

 I like visceral. 

Not all writers do and not all stories should be told this way.  Family sagas, multi-faceted stories, novels set in known historical times to name a few.  But if, like me, you want tell the full and deeply emotional story of one character’s journey towards whatever goal you’ve set for her/him, you can’t go wrong using first person POV.   It’s an easy way to go for the jugular, which is a good way to make your readers feel what the main character is feeling, to sit up and take notice…  and it works every time.

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