Always the first person

“In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained;
that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not
remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking”

from the “Economy” chapter of Walden
Henry David Thoreau

Obviously, I’m not the first person to make this observation!

I’ve noted here before that, ultimately, all narration is done in the first person. Someone is telling us the story that we read. And I’ve asserted here as well that the narrator of our fiction must be as much a character, at least in our own minds, as every other character in our story, even if the narrator is not a participant in but only an observer of the story. The narrator’s personality may be subsumed in the telling, or it may emerge as important to the telling. But as writers, we must make this decision consciously. Who is our ambassador to the reader?

When we sit down to read a book, we sit across the table or the campfire from the person telling us the story. Even if the story is written with a third-person narrator, there is a narrator who is speaking.

*   *   *   *

The quotation above from Walden goes on in the very next sentence to deliver one of the more famous aphorisms of the book:

“I should not talk so much about myself
if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”

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