Contrary to the fact that in a first person narrative “I” is bandied about quite a bit, a writer needs to know it isn’t all about the narrator. The first person narrative can be an interesting way to develop a character or tell a memoir, but if used incorrectly can end up biting you in the butt.
The first person narrator is given the opportunity to express thoughts and ideas without being unrealistic or forcing dialogue. A reader can be inside the mind of the narrator, get to know them, and practically make them into a tangible figure.
In order to successfully utilize the first person narrative, the writer must know the narrator through and through. If you’re writing a memoir it makes this a little easier. Know the narrator so thoroughly that you can make up scenarios and know exactly how that person would react and feel. You have to be completely connected to this individual or the writing will sound false.
This narrator is telling your story, so make sure he or she is credible. You want the reader to know that your narrator is telling the tale accurately. You also want your narrator to be likeable. Having the villain tell a story is an interesting take, but they have to have some redeeming qualities. No one likes a one-dimensional narrator. There needs to be emotional growth, as well as some quality that makes the reader root for your narrator. A book I read recently was written in the first person, but the narrator, a flighty girl, was so lacking in depth and understanding of the situations around her I could barely bring myself to finish the thing. I was supposed to believe that she could solve complex crimes, but most of the time I just wanted to jump inside the book and slap her. So, make sure your narrator knows what they’re talking about. You’re readers want to leave a book entertained not annoyed.
Your readers are also going to want to know about your narrator’s friends. It’s key to develop the supporting characters as well as your narrator. Switching perspective or using dialogue can be great tools to help introduce the personalities and emotional depth of the other characters. In order to fully understand your narrator you need to understand whom they hang with.
(It’s important to note that when switching perspectives you use two, maybe three, people to swap with. It can get really confusing, really fast, if you are using too many narrators to tell a story.)
You also have to remember to develop the scene. Tell it through the eyes of your narrator. Tell the readers how he/she sees things. It will help develop your character. For instance a certain narrator may see a room as…
“The room was dark. The light flickered and cast an array of shadows on the wall. I could smell the stale dust and mildew that clung to the curtains and hid in the corners of the windows. I cringed looking at the leaking roof. At least I was only staying for the night.”
A different narrator could see the room as this…
“The room was dark and the light flickered. I could even smell the damp stench of mildew, but there was a roof and while it may be a tad leaky, it would keep me safe for the night.”
First person narratives are interesting and useful, but don’t make a story selfish. It’s not always about the “I.”