Is the First-Person Voice Overused?

Anyone else out there a little bit weary with literary fiction written in the first person? I’ve wondered if I were the only one tired of the “me” voice. My search on the terms “first person overdone” yielded a thoughtful piece by Alexander Steele, President of the Gotham Writers Workshop. Here’s what he said in “Stop Using the First Person!”

 Next time you start writing a work of fiction, stop (or at least pause) before you type out that fateful word “I.” Why? The first person narrator in contemporary fiction is seriously overused.

….While compiling an anthology of short stories, I made a startling discovery—the vast majority of contemporary fiction is being written in the first person, so much so that we seem to be suffering an overpopulation of first person narrators. It got to the point where I cringed every time I began a story and ran into that ubiquitous “I.” (Count me among the guilty as I’m using it even for this article.)

Why are there so many Is out there now? Perhaps it has something to do with the current popularity of the memoir or perhaps it’s just that it seems easier to write a story in the first person. Whatever the cause, the first person point of view has clearly become the default choice for most fiction writers, and though it’s not a bad choice, it’s not the only choice.

Steele suggests that first-person narrative is easier to manage as a writer – a perspective I’ve heard from other writers. He goes on to explore the technical challenges of writing in other voices.

Does the prevalence of the first-person narrator result from several decades of writing training that relies heavily on self-reflective free-writing as a skill-building technique? Do all those writers now lack an ability to enter a topic except through the portal of personal experience? Or does this speak to an editorial preference for the first-person narrator?


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