Though it is a good starting tool for new authors, first-person narrative is the hardest to master. “Why?” you ask. Because the point of view is limited. You only see what the narrator sees, feel what they feel, and so on. Throughout the story, the reader knows the insides and outs of the narrator as not just a voyeur, but a participant within the tale. Like entering the portal in John Malkovich’s head, but with a longer stretch of time and a cheaper admission fee. If the narrator doesn’t see a whole lot of stuff, it makes for a pretty damn dull book.
Now, this is the trick, the narrator has to be interesting and their actions exciting. Their moral ethics, world views, and innate mannerisms are incorporated into the story and contributed to the plot. If that’s missing, the story is no better than reading a police report. The person telling the story has to be likable and something most readers can relate to. I learned that humor and anecdotes are great devices to use when applying first-person narrative. Humor breaks the ice in just about any situation. Writing is no exception.
Think of it like this, if you’re on a 12-hour road trip with someone, who would you want to sit with: a overdramatic, shallow, neurotic recluse with no purpose, OR an outgoing, observant realist who has a clever slant on viewing the world? I’ll give you a minute….
For the most part, stories are better told in THIRD PERSON when it’s more character-driven than plot-driven. That way, the reader can get a grasp of the situation through various points of view and learn more about the characters themselves. It also helps to avoid the writer’s cop-out when the main character passes out and all the cool shit happens off-screen. This is downright lazy on the part of the writer. If a fight goes down in the story, don’t Fade To Black. Show it or don’t bring it up at all.
Another reason why the first-person narrative can fail is when the story is not told from the mouth of a BELIEVABLE character. That’s the beauty of writing in first-person, when done right. The voice is relaxed; it doesn’t have to be proper, or Elizabethan. You can use slang, curse words, use silly pop references, as long as it's true to the character and their environment. Hell, make up slang. I don’t care if your protagonist attained a doctrine in English literature at age 4, no person from the 21st century talks like Elisabeth frigg’n Bennet! It would be cool if they did, but it’s a reality we all have to face.
Bottom line: If you're a stickler for formal syntax, avoid first-person narrative. If there's a ton of cool stuff happening behind the scenes, outside of your MC's range of sight, stick to third-person. Authenticity is key to all who want readers to believe your beautifully spun fabrication. Unless your character travels back in time or works and a Renaissance fair, keep it real, keep it exciting, and the reader will follow you anywhere.