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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


Perhaps the single most important decision a writer makes when he begins a story is who the narrator is and where he’s going to stand. The decision casts itself in the first sentence and is more complex than it seems on first sight. In making it, the writer answers a surprising number of questions, and those answers lay down the ground rules for the story he is writing. They will forecast the shape his story is going to take, and they will inform his style. Kit Reed

It is always dangerous to write from the point of “I”. The reader is unconsciously taught to feel that the writer is glorifying himself, and rebels against the self-praise. Or otherwise the “I” is pretentiously humble, and offends from exactly the other point of view. Anthony Trollope

To write in the first person seems the easiest. As all young journal-writers assume. Actually it may be the hardest—there is so many hazards. Garrulity. Lack of shape, or proportion. Or even judgment. Hortense Calisher

The first-person device, by permitting the reader to identify himself with one character from beginning to end, not only serves to juxtapose one force with another and gives both meaning, but makes for easier reading. In writing for popular magazines I have found first-person—as-told-to or ghostwritten—story has a far wider audience than the third-person narrative; it gives the reader a feeling of being part of things rather than an observer. That this type of writing is not for the “intellectual” is doubtless true, although it should not offend them. Jim Thompson

Even in the touchstone masterpieces of first-person narration, the teller of the tale is not necessarily the protagonist. Stephen Koch

When I write in first person, I tend to be too wordy. My first-person narrators tend to tell everything. Andre Dubus

A story told in the third person will differ radically—in style, content, even structure—from the same story told in the first person. David Madden

Whether I write in third or first person, emotion can be more readily felt by the reader when I stay in the single viewpoint. Phyllis A. Whitney

Point of view and voice are such an important part of fiction writing, but in journalism, the point of view is generally that of an objective bystander. Mary Kay Andrews

Omniscient point of view means that the author shows us the story through the eyes of many characters. Multiple point of view does this, too, but usually in orderly fashion, limiting each point of view to one scene or one chapter. Nancy Kress

You can…say that from a third person you’re above the earth a little more, whereas with the first person you are close and personally involved with the characters. Maybe the first person enjoins the reader and the writer to be more sympathetic to the character. Maybe to be godlike is naturally harsher. Richard Ford

If you have a scene involving several characters, and you describe it first through one person’s eyes, then through other’s eyes, then through another’s and so on, the whole structure of the scene becomes muddled and loses in intensity. Graham Greene

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com