First-person essays are aimed at sharing an experience, letting your reader see and feel it. They show how that experience changed your mind, affected you, educated you. Your essay is your personal journey of discovery. And your main task while writing your essay is to engage a reader to take that journey with you.
To make your thoughts and emotions run in the right direction, you need to follow the basic rules. Here is how to write from your perspective and show your reader the true sense of the story.
Choosing an Experience to Share
The topics are endless. Almost anything can be the subject material for your essay – relationships, nature, climbing, death, traveling – just ask yourself what you have experienced that has emotional appeal. Your topic can be funny, compelling or touching. If you cannot decide what to write about, ask yourself what makes you happy or what makes you sad. All topics are at your fingertips, you simply need to choose a great illustrative one that will make your reader care.
When you have a clear idea of what you want to share, go to the next important step – writing the first draft.
Preparing the First Draft
The first draft of your essay is your first step in creating a thoughtful and focused writing piece. Let your emotions and ideas flow! Don't critique your first draft, after all, you'll have time to improve it later. All you need to do right now is to describe the things that are crucial for your story – people, places, events. You need to find the balance in giving the reader enough information so they can understand your actions or decisions.
While writing your first draft, it is OK to pause, recollect your thoughts and remind yourself of your goal. When you think you've said all you can say, close your notebook and walk away. In several hours, in a day, or so, read your essay. You'll find information that shines with brilliance and you'll see plenty of unnecessary details. It's good to recognize this before you submit your work.
Style and Voice
The goal of your first-person essay is to connect with a reader, so they can visualize your point of view. You need to write in a personal, engaging, understandable and revealing way.
- Personal – You are the main protagonist, so make your essay intimate and revealing to show the reader your personal world. The best essays are written like a conversation with a smart friend, in a real and genuine way.
- Engaging – To make your essay interesting, include intriguing details, humorous experience and descriptive language. Your essay shouldn't sound like a science report, so make sure your writing style is appealing and entertaining.
- Understandable – Write in a straightforward and understandable way. Avoid using unclear references or dubious phrases. Use simple, clear and concise language that will easily connect you with a reader.
- Revealing – It is very important to make your first-person essay revealing. Personal references establish the setting, mood, theme and historical relevance. If you fail to do that, you'll find it really difficult to disclose all necessary information in your essay.
Perfecting Your Essay
The last step in crafting an effective essay is to thoroughly revise your writing piece. You've written what you think is close to a perfect work, but don't rush to submit it at once. Take time to reread your essay and ensure that it doesn't contain the common pitfalls.
A good essay is one that appeals to the five senses. Make sure you offer enough details, so your reader can see, hear and smell what you're writing about. Don't just tell the audience what's going on, use the verbs to show that. However, avoid being too emotional. It's fine to show happiness, anger or sadness, but you need to find a balance.
In addition, check your essay for grammar, punctuation, repetitions. You don't want to spoil your personal journey by silly typos or mistakes. Ask yourself if your writing is clear and to-the-point and whether you share your thoughts in the most understandable way.
Write in detail, be honest, talk about emotions and your first-person essay will surely engage your reader!
People approach essay writing in so many different ways. Some spend a long time worrying about how to set about writing an informative piece, which will educate, or even entertain, the readers. But it is not just the content that's the issue; it is also the way the content is - or ought to be - written. More may have asked the question: what should I use, the first-person point of view (POV) or the third-person?
Choosing between the two has confused more than a few essay-writing people. Sure, it can be easy to fill the piece up with healthy chunks of information and content, but it takes a deeper understanding of both points of view to be able to avoid slipping in and out one or the other - or at least realize it when it happens. Sure, a Jekyll and Hyde way of writing may be clever, but it can be very confusing in non-fiction forms, like the essay.
Why is all this important?
Continually swapping from the first-person to the third-person POV may leave the reader confused. Who exactly is talking here? Why does one part of the essay sound so detached and unaffected, while the next suddenly appears to be intimate and personal?
Indeed, making the mistake of using both points of view - without realizing it - leaves readers with the impression of the essay being haphazardly written.
Using first-person: advantages and disadvantages
The use of the first-person narration in an essay means that the author is writing exclusively from his or her point of view - no one else's. The story or the information will thus be told from the perspective of "I," and "We," with words like "me," "us," "my," "mine," "our," and "ours" often found throughout the essay.
Example: "I first heard about this coastal island two years ago, when the newspapers reported the worst oil spill in recent history. To me, the story had the impact of a footnote - evidence of my urban snobbishness. Luckily, the mess of that has since been cleaned up; its last ugly ripple has ebbed."
You will see from the above example that the writer, while not exactly talking about himself or herself, uses the first-person point of view to share information about a certain coastal island, and a certain oil spill. The decision to do so enables the essay to have a more personal, subjective, and even intimate tone of voice; it also allows the author to refer to events, experiences, and people while giving (or withholding) information as he or she pleases.
The first-person view also provides an opportunity to convey the viewpoint character or author's personal thoughts, emotions, opinion, feelings, judgments, understandings, and other internal information (or information that only the author possesses) - as in "the story had the impact of a footnote". This then allows readers to be part of the narrator's world and identify with the viewpoint character.
This is why the first-person point of view is a natural choice for memoirs, autobiographical pieces, personal experience essays, and other forms of non-fiction in which the author serves also as a character in the story.
The first-person POV does have certain limitations. First and most obvious is the fact that the author is limited to a single point of view, which can be narrow, restrictive, and awkward. Less careful or inexperienced writers using first-person may also fall to the temptation of making themselves the focal subject - even the sole subject - of the essay, even in cases that demand focus and information on other subjects, characters, or events.
Using third-person: advantages and disadvantages
The third-person point of view, meanwhile, is another flexible narrative device used in essays and other forms of non-fiction wherein the author is not a character within the story, serving only as an unspecified, uninvolved, and unnamed narrator conveying information throughout the essay. In third-person writing, people and characters are referred to as "he," "she," "it," and "they"; "I" and "we" are never used (unless, of course, in a direct quote).
Example: "Local residents of the coastal island province suffered an ecological disaster in 2006, in the form of an oil spill that was reported by national newspapers to be worst in the country's history. Cleaning up took two years, after which they were finally able to go back to advertising their island's beach sands as 'pure' and its soil, 'fertile.'"
Obviously, the use of the third-person point of view here makes the essay sound more factual - and not just a personal collection of the author's own ideas, opinions, and thoughts. It also lends the piece a more professional and less casual tone. Moreover, writing in third-person can help establish the greatest possible distance between reader and author - and the kind of distance necessary to present the essay's rhetorical situations.
The essay being non-fiction, it is important to keep in mind that the primary purpose of the form is to convey information about a particular subject to the reader. The reader has the right to believe that the essay is factually correct, or is at least given context by factual events, people, and places.
The third-person point of view is more common in reports, research papers, critiques, biography, history, and traditional journalistic essays. This again relates to the fact that the author can, with the third-person POV, create a formal distance, a kind of objectivity, appropriate in putting up arguments or presenting a case.