May 15 Limits: First Person

The Prompt

Write A Story In the First Person

We’re on the cusp of the half-way point through the year. After you’ve written your story today, could you come back to the blog and post about one thing that you have learned/that has surprised you/that you’ve remembered, while attempting the challenge, please? Do this whether you’re still writing, whether you think you’ve quit (but really you know you’re going to come back and write at least one more story this month, don’t you?), or whether you’ve missed a few day, but written a few stories too.

What are you learning about your writing, your routine, your voice, the importance of turning up? Or is there something else you’ve discovered?

This week we’re starting a week of limits: point of view, mostly. Trying out all these different forms will give you an idea of what stories call for which perspective, and which you’re most comfortable with.

Today, first person. This is probably the easiest voice to find, since this is how we tell most of our stories in every day life(“I went to that new restaurant in town and you’ll never guess who I saw there…”)

The Prompt

Write A Story In the First Person


  • Remember that only the thoughts and observations of your “I” character can be presented as fact. No ‘head-hopping’ allowed!
  • The protagonist can make assumptions and judgements about the things around them. They can comment on how they think another character is feeling, but they cannot say it definitively.
  • This mono-focus is one of the great features of the First Person story: it is highly subjective and immediate. It has a built in “show, don’t tell” factor.
  • If you don’t often write in the first person, pick up almost any middle grade novel (that is, something for kids younger than the Hunger Games crowd, but older than the chapter-book-with-illustrations crowd) and you’ll see how it’s done. The protagonist is talking to the reader. It’s the running commentary inside their head. It’s also a favorite of “chick lit” and noir.
  • I don’t know about you, but in my head I’m much less kind, understanding and tolerant than I try to be when I open my mouth. Allow your character to lose the civilized filter that we apply between brain and mouth. Allow them to be less (or more) than their image would suggest.
  • Don’t forget to give the reader a reason to care. Give your protagonist a flaw and an endearing quality. For example, Amelia Peabody  is no-nonsense feminist archaeologist at the turn of the 20th Century, in the (mostly) first-person mystery series by Elizabeth Peters. Amelia is astoundingly arrogant about her own intellectual prowess and impatient with anyone who considers her femininity before her intelligence. She is, however, saved from being unlikeable by her hopeless, romantic devotion to her brilliant — and very manly — husband, Emerson.  She never admits this as a weakness, but the contrast between her professed opinions and her actions/reactions provides a rich vein of humor in the series. It also illustrates her character much more clearly than her own words ever could.
  • Try writing this story for one person in particular, to help you find the voice. Imagine you’re writing it for your sister, your son, or your best friend.


Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

10 thoughts on “May 15 Limits: First Person”

  1. for today – still in the same story vein:


    one very helpful thing i’ve learned is something i’ll also try for nanowrimo, which i’ve attempted three times now but never had won. the prompts are helping me sketch out a larger story. because the larger story came to me spontaneously, i didn’t write an outline, so i’m not sure where it’s headed at this point. but the prompts are helping me uncover bits and pieces – it’s helping me sketch out parts, each character’s backstory, framing the story’s history. that sort of thing. hope that makes sense. the prompts are also helping me map out stories i could write in the future.

  2. I feel like I’ve allowed too many distractions (and paying work and their deadlines) to demand so much of my writing time this month, which I don’t recall dealing with as much last year. I have tried, though, to ensure I keep trying to have fun writing stories I’d enjoy reading. But I feel like if I have to put in a lot of effort, then it can’t be all that fun. I think I’ve written five good stories, five okay stories, and five stories that are exercises and/or brain dumps more than anything else. Even when I’m having fun writing, I keep wondering what I can do to get better.

  3. One thing I have learned this month is that I don’t know my characters as well as I thought (and I’m glad I am getting to know them better). I’ve been (mostly) writing stories that are background for characters in the novel I am currently working on. Writing these pieces of their pasts has been quite illuminating. I appreciate being able to spend the time to get to know them like this before continuing with the novel.

  4. Almost halfway through the month, and this one was harder than I thought. But I finally came up with one that’s a bit different for me. This is so much fun.

  5. I’ve been really surprised at the direction some of the prompts have taken me. I started the story a day thing thinking I could use it to write out some scenes for the book I’m working on. While I have done some of that, I’ve also remembered things from the distant past and broken out of a rut I’d been in. Writing short instead of long has been good discipline, as well. The whole experience has been great. Thank you!

  6. Hey Julie and the rest of you great writers out there! I’ve had great fun so far this month with the prompts and the writing. What I am learning is that I like suspense, keeping the readers asking questions and wanting more. Most of my stories have ended abruptly and I did so because I may go back and rewrite them and make them so much more.

    I’ve also set a time of day limit for myself. My stories have to be written before 5 pm EDT and posted to my blog. With that deadline looming overhead, it forces me to actually sit down and get it done. I have to admit, yesterday’s challenge had me scrambling for that deadline (well, that and the desperate need for sleep!). Even doing that little amount of research threw me off my game a bit. I pondered all night and into the early hours of the day what to research and write about. I’ve done research for stories before in this competition (like learning to field dress a rabbit!), but this one took me forever to make a decision. I settled for glass blowing and came up with a half-way decent flash fiction piece.

    Today’s prompt just may also get to me. I’ve written in 1st person in the contest already, but I must admit, it isn’t my favorite voice to write in.

    Chop Chop! Time’s a wastin’ …..off to write now!

    1. That’s really interesting. Thanks for sharing. Maybe if I do a prompt like this again I’ll cut out the decision factor and just TELL you what to research 🙂

      I like the idea of the time limit. I’m suffering by *intending* to write my story first thing in the morning, then letting other stuff get in the way, and scrambling later to fit it in!

      1. That would be great to give us a topic to research… I think I spent an hour hitting the random button on Wiki before finally searching for hobbies.. lol

        The time limit has really helped me focus. I hope you try it and it works for you 🙂

        Have a great day, Julie!

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