By Heather Moore
In the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more books written in first person. And not just YA or Middle Grade either. Suspense novels, literary, mainstream, humorous, etc. you name it—they are being written in first person.
Also, hot on the market is present tense. Why? Is it is just a trend? Or is it here to stay? Traditionally, YA is usually written in first person—the woes of a teenager dramatizing every single detail of her traumatic life . . . you get the picture.
Recently I interviewed an author that I met at the L.A. BEA Expo (Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire, Harper Perennial). We’ll post her interview in September in conjunction with her new release. But when I asked Spechler why she wrote in first person, present tense, she said, “In general, I like first person because of the sense of intimacy it creates. Whenever I start writing in third person, I have to ask myself what exactly I’m shying away from. Sometimes I let myself write in third person if the intimacy of first is daunting to the point of paralyzing me; after all, it’s better to write something than to write nothing. For some reason, I think my sentences are prettier when I use third person, but there’s an immediacy and an openness that only first person can create.”
For a traditionalist like me, it’s taken some getting used to. I don’t read a ton of YA, so when I do open a favorite author’s book and see that it’s in first person, I hesitate. Then I dive in and by the second or third page, I don’t notice anymore. In fact, I’m caught up very quickly in the characterization. Just as Spechler said, it really does bring an intimacy and immediacy to the character.
Here’s a list of NY Times Bestselling authors who write in first person that may surprise you:
Jodi Picoult (first person and present tense, and get this—Perfect Match alternates with chapters in third person, present tense)
Jason Wright (first person in upcoming book: Recovering Charles)
Lolly Winston (first person, present tense)
Mary Higgins Clark (first person, past tense)
Sue Grafton (first person, past tense)
So, if writing in first person is your natural style, you won’t have to conform to the traditional narrative third person any longer. Write, write, write!