I am going to tell you a story. Have I got your attention? He might tell it to you the story better than me, but I was involved, so I will tell you. After I have told my story, perhaps you will tell it better. You might be good at telling stories yourself. However, this story is mine and therefore I should tell it.
Writing in the first person is a narrative technique employed by many writers for a variety of reasons. As you saw in my opening, by using the first person I developed a sense of immediacy and connection. Were I to tell you my story, it would have been just you and I, my thoughts going straight into you. Had I got someone else to tell it, and used a third person narrator, there would have been an immediate distance between the author and the audience. I brought my audience, by using the first person, up close and personal. My emotions will be conveyed to you and don’t pass through a filter. As a first person narrator reveals their thoughts and emotions to the reader, confidence and a bond is created. It is the norm for people to write diaries in the first person for this reason. When an author writes in the first person, they are confiding to the reader, revealing their innermost secrets, just like a diary.
By speaking in the first person, I have an advantage over everyone else who may be in my story. By using the personal pronoun I, the reader automatically believes me more than anyone else in the novel, especially at the beginning. The question of believability is a tactic played with by many authors who use first person. Is the narrator reliable or unreliable? The question is much harder to answer when in the first person.
There is a common conception, or misconception that the first person is an easier form to write in. Whilst this may or not be true, I think what people mean to say is that it is more natural, especially for novice writers. If someone wants to tell a story that is personal to them, at home, in a café, in a bar, they will naturally choose the first person. When it comes to writing a story down, it then becomes natural to go for the first person. However, the argument that it is easier could come down to the limited nature, or potential limited nature of character view within some first person narrated novels. An author can focus entirely on one character in the first person. Everything is funnelled through their mind. This is a fault of many novels, when it is clear the author has an interesting character, but that’s all it is. There is nothing outside the main character.
If the narrator is believable, and sometimes even if he is not, there is a clear perspective on the story in the first person. It can be much easier for an audience to digest a first person novel, and the audience understands early on who their “hero” should be. It is more often than not the narrator himself.
Recently, first person narrated novels where the hero is not the narrator have been turned into major Hollywood blockbusters. The Great Gatsby and On the Road both employ first person narrators but they are framed. The author sees the heroes through the eyes of the first person narrator. The narrator is in awe of the heroes because they are wild, free and alluring, unlike their more grounded, straight counterparts. This is a tremendously effective technique for creating a sense of mystery, as you, along with the narrator, learn the wonders of the character in the story. In both novels Kerouac and Fitzgerald start by setting the scene and then slowly the main “exciting” character comes more into focus.
A reason why Fitzgerald and Kerouac rejected the third person to tell their story is that the intimacy and connection developed by using the first person helps to develop the narrator quickly. Everything comes straight from his mind and the reader is quick to learn about him or her. The voice of the book is the voice of the character which accelerates the feelings of intimacy. By seeing into the narrators mind, they can make many more personal judgements on the people and world of the novel. In a third person novel, even personal judgements, unless used as direct speech, can sound very objective and have less emotional weight. To all you writers out there, try using both and notice the distinct effect it brings your prose.