I’ve always loved reading a story written in first person. As an avid reader, I’ll read almost anything, whether it’s written in first person or not, but my favorite voice is first person, and I’ve been that way ever since I learned to read.
One of the earliest memories from my childhood is piling in the car with my family on Saturday morning for our weekly visit to the downtown library in Joliet, Illinois.
Even though my parents did a lot of reading in their chosen professions—my father was a minister and my mother was a schoolteacher—they always found time to read fiction.
When I was eleven, I became more interested in the books my father was bringing home from the library than I was in the books I was finding in the children’s section. My father’s favorite genre was mystery/suspense/thriller, and by the time I was eleven, I had already read through the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series several times.
When I asked my father if I could read one of his library books—a book about a spy, a beautiful woman, and a bad guy stealing state secrets—I was shocked when he said yes.
From then on, I was hooked on the mystery/suspense/thriller genre forever, and I was especially enamored with reading novels written in first person with a male protagonist telling the story.
Years later, when I sat down to write my first novel, I didn’t think about whether I should write in first person or not. The voice of my protagonist, Titus Ray, a CIA intelligence officer, came out on paper—or, more accurately, on my computer screen—as if I were telling the story in my own voice.
Now, after writing eight novels—with three more on the way—and receiving hundreds of emails from my readers, I believe I understand why the voice of first person is one I love to read as well as write.
- First person is an intimate voice. It allows the protagonist to share his or her innermost thoughts and feelings with the reader in a way that’s impossible with third person. Because the protagonist is telling the reader what the other characters in the novel don’t know, an intimate connection is made. Much like the bond between best friends or a husband and wife, it’s forged by shared secrets and experiences and leads to a deeper, more insightful relationship.
- First person is an authoritative voice. The reason most readers enjoy reading a story in first person is the same reason jurors enjoy hearing directly from witnesses in a trial. The words of a person who saw something, heard something, or experienced something carry weight. The protagonist in a story told in first person knows about the story; the words are weighty words.
- First person is a natural voice. The voice of first person is natural because it’s how we all think. We talk to ourselves in first person. We say, “I need to go to the store. I really like her. I love this apple pie.” Thus, whether we read or write in person, it’s a comfortable way of looking at a story.
- First person is a character-driven voice. Writing or reading in first person inevitably leads to seeing the full spectrum of at least one character, the protagonist. However, because the protagonist is having dialogue with other characters, thinking about the characters, describing their actions, it allows the other characters to be fleshed out in the story in a more well-rounded and meaningful way.
- First person is a simple voice. As soon as the reader begins reading a story in first person, the focus of the story becomes clear—it’s the protagonist. When a story is told in third person, this may not become evident until much later in the story. With first person, the perspective is well-defined and uncomplicated.
Because I write in first person, I often get asked some interesting questions from my readers: “How do you know so much about the CIA? Did you use to be a spy? Have you ever been a private investigator?”
I believe such questions not only reinforce why I love to write in first person, they also reveal why readers love to read stories told in first person. It makes fiction seem real, which is what fiction readers want and why writers write fiction in the first place.