Hello intrepid writers! Does your first person novel or short story sound like a broken record of I-I-I-I? Even the most inventive fiction writers have a difficult time varying their sentence structures to avoid overusing “I” in a first person story, often winding up with such strange, convoluted sentences that the writing only draws more attention to what you’re trying to skirt around.
But do not fear! Here are a 3 simple tips to avoid overusing “I” in a first person story… without all the syntactical jump rope.
Tip #1: Remove filtering
If every observation is filtered through your POV character, it’s easy to overuse the word “I.”
I heard a bird singing outside my window.
A bird sang outside my window.
I saw my mom walk up to the door.
My mom walked up to the door.
Tip #2: Balance action with description, dialogue, inner monologue, and summary
If every sentence is an action, it’s also easy to overuse “I.”
I ran across the street. I hesitated for a moment. Then I knocked on Jesse’s door. I nervously twirled my keys in my hand. When no one came to the door, I started shaking.
Action + inner monologue + description + dialogue + summary:
I ran across the street. Jesse said he’d meet me at the bus stop at 4pm. It wasn’t like him not to show. I knocked on the door. The house was totally silent. Had he forgotten about me?
“Jesse?” I called.
I nervously twirled my keys in my hand. The last time someone bailed on me like this, that was it. We broke up the next day. I’d hoped things wouldn’t go that way this time, but history does have a way of repeating itself.
A neighbor’s dog barked, then another car whizzed by on the street. But still no noise from inside the house. I started shaking.
Want to learn more about balancing action, dialogue, inner monologue, description, and summary in your scenes? Check out my comprehensive self-editing guide.
Tip #3: Remove “I” from inner monologue
In a first person story, we assume that inner thoughts and emotions are coming from the narrator. They don’t need to be tagged.
I couldn’t believe it. Shrimp? She knew I was allergic, I thought to myself. What was she thinking?
Unbelievable. Shrimp? She knew I was allergic. What was she thinking?
Remember, you don’t need to eliminate every single instance of “I” in a first person story. If you’re doing syntax acrobatics and constructing a slew of awkward sentences to avoid using “I,” you might be going to far. First person stories will use the word “I” a lot–there’s only so much you can change that. Just do your best!
Hope this helps 🙂