One Thing You Should Never Do in a Novel (And How To Avoid It)

I love writing in first person. My two favorite manuscripts are written first person. My favorite one is written first person male and that lead character is my favorite son. He’s also head strong, opinionated, and difficult to manage, but that’s another post!

Writing in first person comes with inherent risks. It’s such a turn off to some people, they won’t even consider a novel written in first person.

Some publishers, editors, and agents have the same reaction.

The first person point of view naturally limits the amount of information you can share with your readers. Because one character is telling the story, that character can tell only what he or she experiences, knows or assumes.

First person also, therefore, challenges the writer by forcing him or her to find creative and believable ways to present necessary information to the character and, through the character, to the reader.

But there is another aspect of first person story telling that’s more important than all the regular rules.

One Thing You Should Never Do in a Novel

What is this most egregious of writing errors?

Putting yourself too far forward in the writing.

We can’t avoid showing up in our work. It’s just not possible. The stories we write reveal who we are and what we believe about the world. The things we write about and the way we write about them are influenced by our personal beliefs. They are part of what makes our author voice unique.

But there’s a huge difference between the platform on which your stories are written (your worldview) and you standing up on that platform and shouting your worldview to all and sundry.

The first is highly recommended.

The second is not.

Novels are not just another platform for the rant of the day. Yes, you can rant through characters, but make sure those characters also believe those things and that there’s a purpose for letting the character rant beyond venting yourself.

I do believe some things need to be said.

I also believe some characters are more suited to delivering a good rant than others. And some stories beg for characters who feel strongly enough about something to rant. Else, where would be the conflict?

Having said that, however, every writer needs to be careful that every character they create is unique and personable, his or her own person, and that they honestly and truly believe what they’re saying. Don’t put words into the mouths of characters just because you  want to say them and need a platform from which to speak them. Every part of a novel has to fit the story world, the situation, and the characters or it becomes just another rant.

If you write in first person, you need to be especially careful of author intrusion, but it can happen in any voice and in any genre.

This is one of my struggles as a writer. I’m certain other writers face the same challenge. That’s okay, so long as you recognize the weakness and take special care to root it out of the manuscript during editing.

How do you most show up in your novels?

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