We want to talk to you about writing in the 1st Person.

With a tip of the hat to Geoff Pope, writing for the NYT’s Grammar Girl Column.

However well we write, our voice as the author is always heard.
But when we choose to write in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person, it isn’t just style or convention.

It depends on the nature of the written piece: Government instruction, love letter, scientific paper, Facebook post, brochure, or email.

This week, we’ll be offering some tips. We’ll be starting with 1st person.

1st Person

“I kicked the ball into the back of the net. Goal!!!”

Typically used in autobiographies, personal opinion pieces, and naïve first novels where the author hasn’t worked out that it’s okay to report a story as an unnamed observer.

For a great book written in 1st person, take a look at Nabokov’s Lolita. Humbert, the narrator, owns up to his immorality – and leaves you to accept or deny that you’d do the same thing in his position.

Great copy in 1st person? Have a look at Bob Levenson’s work on Mobil’s We Want You To Live campaign:

Mobil

 

Think of it as the wilfully subjective voice: I know it’s me talking, you know it’s me talking. So don’t expect me to be impartial.

Academics avoid it. Because they think that writing in the 3rd person makes their position more objective.

But as Joseph M Williams, author of Style: 10 Lessons in Clarity and Grace, says: “… deleting an “I” or a “we” doesn’t make the science objective. We know that behind those impersonal sentences are flesh-and-blood researchers doing, thinking, and writing.”

In sales and body copy, it’s worse. Pretending to be impartial? Forget it, you’re selling me something. We both know it, and don’t pretend otherwise.

Unless you’re as smart about it as Procter and Gamble are. And we’ll talk about how they do it later in the week.