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Help for Writing in the First Person…from Wendy LaCapra

By on Saturday, Apr 2, 2011 in Craft | 3 comments

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I’ve recently been called upon to read a friend’s partial manuscript–all written in the first person.

I recently wrote a short story in the first person, which I had never seriously done before.

And I realized there are pitfalls.

The hardest one for me was the “telling” pitfall.  How on earth do you avoid telling if you are writing “I”?  I mean, isn’t using “I,” by its very nature, telling?

Well, there are ways, and aspiring author Wendy LaCapra taught them to me.  Following are a few examples from my story and how Wendy helped me make them a LOT bolder, better, and more-showy-and-less-tell-y:


Telling:  “It was no wonder I acted as if I had received Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.”

Wendy’s Way:  “I clutched it (the ticket) to my chest like it was Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.”

Do you see what she’s done here?  She’s made it visual.  Using the strong verb “clutched” makes you visualize clutching a precious object to your chest.  You can see it.  And therefore you can feel it.


Telling:  I had grown up, and left my hurtful penchant for bad boys in the past.

Wendy’s Way:  The day he slipped an engagemnet ring on my finger, I knew I had grown up and left my hurtful penchant for bad boys in the past.

Why it works:  A vivid, concrete image your brain can sink its teeth into.


More (yawn) telling:  She had stopped by my tiny shoebox of an office to make dinner plans.

Wendy’s Way:  She tried to lean across my cluttered desk without causing the stacks of books and papers to fall.

Same thing, the telling is changed to SENSORY images.  You can do this using any sense.  Use all five!


Telling:  Well, my thesis had been Jane Austen:  The Woman’s Woman.  But had anyone outside of my small liberal arts English department even read it?

Wendy’s Way:   “You do recall my thesis was Jane Austen:  The Woman’s Woman.”  But had anyone outside of my small liberal arts English department even read it?

See the conversion of telling to dialogue?

BOTTOM LINE:  Enhance your first-person writing by changing dull telling by injecting emotional and sensory images.  And use dialogue instead of telling, too.

Thank you, Wendy!  I think you’re brilliant!  🙂