How to Write Fiction in First Person

As a Young Adult author, I’m well acquainted with first person. For as long as I’ve been writing, that’s been the main format of the genre. The good news is that it’s the most common way we tell stories in real life (which is part of why I’m a big fan of it), but it does tend to introduce several pitfalls.

One of the biggest is character description. More specifically, description of the narrator. As I explained in a post a long time ago, while it’s perfectly acceptable to provide description in third-person (‘she had blue hair and an epic mohawk’), first person is not so forgiving. Originally, I listed four ways to describe a narrator , but I’ve since begun using two more: delayed description and dialogue description.

Delayed description is sort of a sneaky technique where you avoid describing the narrator until some aspect of their appearance influences the story, such as them being short and fitting in with a group of children. Dialogue description is probably the most fun one I’ve found; it involves another character mentioning their description in dialogue. So one example might be a blonde narrator becoming the butt of a dumb blonde joke, and all of a sudden the readers know her hair color. Or perhaps a boy awkwardly tells her she’s beautiful, which also gives the readers a guideline.

I feel I’m at risk of seguing into a longer post on first-person, so I’ll stop myself there. Suffice to say that narrator description is a reasonably easy problem to solve. The next big problem is what I call the ‘I’ problem. It seems obvious, but in first person a significant portion of your sentences will start with the word. I ran to him. I jumped into his arms. I braced myself as he spun me around.

The main fix for this problem is to make yourself aware of it. When you have the urge to start a second or third sentence in a row with ‘I,’ look back and check if there’s another way to phrase things. In many ways this will actually help your overall writing, as it will eliminate a lot of boring sentences.

The third and final major problem that I’ve experienced is the limit on information. Third person allows for the reader to receive information from more than one source, creating a lot more opportunities for dramatic irony and tension (say, if the reader knew that the main character was about to sneak into a room filled with armed men). There doesn’t seem to be much of a fix for this; I know it’s tempting to simply up the level of knowledge of the narrator, but doing so makes everything feel cartoony. Instead, I’ve found that it’s best to work within this limitation and accept that the level of tension felt by the reader will match what’s felt by the narrator.

In general, the best advice I think I could give to someone writing first person is to imagine you were telling the story to someone else. How would you do it? Where would you pause? These little quirks help create a unique voice. As long as you’re aware of the pitfalls of first person, you can use it to create some amazing stories.

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How to Write Fight Scenes

His fist collided with my chin, knocking my head back. Before I could recover, he’d hit me again. Hard strike, left temple. He rode me down to the ground, yanking on my hair as blow after blow left my ears ringing. All I wanted was for him to stop, but I couldn’t do anything other than whimper as he kneed me hard in the ribs.

I rolled over. He backed away. “Don’t even think of getting up.”

A good fight scene is one of the hardest things to write. In the midst of a fight, there’s a veritable bevy of details to notice: blows being thrown, pain shooting up from odd places, sweat beading in your eyes, blood pulsing through your ears. As anyone who’s ever heard a firsthand story about a fight can attest, even those who’ve been through the real deal can have a hard time summarizing what happened.

In writing a fight scene also you have the added pressure of timing, where the form of your language must follow the feeling of what’s happening. As above, you might have noticed how the rhythm of the words picks up toward the middle. Hard strike, left temple. We all know what that means, but the drought of explanation implies that the narrator had a hard time thinking.

The same is true for the end. I rolled over. He backed away. The narrator is thinking in simple sentences, implying pain even without having to tell the reader. If you get one thing from this post, that’s what I want you to remember: a fight scene is about depth of language more than it is about breadth of language. It’s poetry of a kind, in which you try to pack as much meaning as possible in every single word. Sure, you could spend pages upon pages describing a single strike. She kicked out in a karate-style strike that connected halfway between my bottom rib and pelvis, igniting a shooting pain that reminded me of the time I had to have my appendix removed. But in a fight scene, you should imagine every word costing you a thousand dollars. Spend your money—and your reader’s attention—well.

Fight scenes are about focus too. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make is to shift back and forth. I did this, then he did this. It smacks of the way most people describe fights, but it wastes valuable time. More importantly, a fight doesn’t feel like that in the moment. Even if you’ve never been in a fight, you’ve probably felt what it’s like to get hurt. In that moment, we don’t think about the details of where the pain is coming from; we think about the pain and what we can do (or not do) to stop it. To return to the fight above, the focus is on the attacker because the narrator has essentially become a victim. They’re not fighting back, so any description of what they’re doing beyond feeling pain would be essentially worthless.

This is another point worth mentioning. In a fight, people tend to take either an active or passive role; in an active role the focus is on their own actions, while in a passive role the focus is on the other’s actions. To rewrite the fight from an active standpoint would look something like this:

I dodged to the side of a blow meant for my chin. Quick jab forward, hitting him in his throat. I grabbed his overextended elbow and aimed for his shoulder. A loud scream of pain. I could feel the arm go limp.

One look in his eyes and I could see he was done. I let go of his arm and used my knee to push him away. “Sorry about your arm, dude.”

See the difference? While both scenes mention the other combatant extensively, the action is almost exclusively attributed to one person. The other person in the second fight could be doing all kinds of crazy stuff, but it goes unnoticed because the focus is on what our narrator is doing.

Vocabulary is also really important here. You have to know the difference between a hook, jab, cross, roundhouse… basically any terminology you plan on using, or else you could wind up describing something impossible. Also, the type of blow will inform the other person’s reaction. For example, a powerful cross could knock someone out, but a jab would only push them back a bit. I’ll admit I’ve never boxed or fought in my life, but I’ve been to enough classes and learned enough about the differences that I can use them in my writing. You don’t have to be MMA-caliber to try it; you just have to do your homework.

In conclusion, fight scenes are best kept short and focused. Longer fight scenes (like a battle) could be a string of smaller fights linked together, but the individual fights themselves shouldn’t be a word salad unless that’s intended to be part of the narrator’s characterization.

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24 Great Supernatural Mysteries for Young Adults

It’s no secret that mystery is a popular genre. Crime serials consistently make up the majority of nighttime TV, and names like Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew have persisted in popular culture decades after the novels that gave them life were released. But the sub-genre of Supernatural Mystery adds an even more intriguing piece to the puzzle. When the twists in the mystery could involve anything from vampires to angels, who wouldn’t want to read on? Below is a list of some of the best Paranormal, Supernatural, and Fantasy Mystery novels for Young Adults.



Clarity “Clare” Fern sees things. Things no one else can see. Things like stolen kisses and long-buried secrets. All she has to do is touch a certain object, and the visions come to her. It’s a gift.
And a curse.



Tory Brennan is the leader of a ragtag band of teenage “sci-philes” who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina. When the group rescues a dog caged for medical testing on a nearby island, they are exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus that changes their lives forever.



When a stranger joins the cast of Vagabond Circus—a circus that is run by Dream Travelers and features real magic—mysterious events start happening. The once orderly grounds of the circus become riddled with hidden threats. And the ringmaster realizes not only are his circus and its magic at risk, but also his very life.



Seventeen-year-old Aspen is a skydiving, rock climbing, adrenaline junky. All her life, she’s been fascinated by the dragons who roam near her home in Yellowstone Park. Yes, Dragons. Though no human has ever gotten close enough to touch one.
Except Aspen.

Sisters of Blood and Spirit


Wren Noble is dead—she was born that way. Vibrant, unlike other dead things, she craves those rare moments when her twin sister allows her to step inside her body and experience the world of the living.

Emerge: The Awakening


All her life, Allie has suffered in silence as those around her shrink from her touch, too intimidated to take the time to get to know her. It’s left her feeling like an outcast for fifteen years.
When an unexpected move to Kelleys Island brings Aidan McBrien crashing into her life, Allie is thrown by his reaction. He isn’t affected by her touch. He doesn’t stutter or make a quick exit. He smiles and welcomes her into his circle of friends.

Phantom Touch


High school’s hard enough for most kids, but it’s a real nightmare when you throw unhappy ghosts, unfinished business, and an unsolved murder into the mix.

Hangman’s Curse


In this gripping mystery/adventure a mysterious curse appears to be spreading throughout Baker High, attacking popular student athletes and immobilizing the student body with fear while Elijah and Elisha, teenage twins, must work to uncover the truth.

Rune Gate


For years, Alexandra Yorke was a top police clairvoyant, but she isn’t a clairvoyant; she’s a witch, and living inside the heads of serial killers has taken its toll. Unable to control her gifts any longer, she retreats from the world.

The Diviners


Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.



My name is Jemma Blackburn and I have a secret. I know vampires are real. I watched one murder my father eight months ago, and even though they tried to convince me it didn’t happen—that I’d lost touch with reality due to the trauma, I know what I saw was real.

Elemental: The First


To Rose Frost, moving house every six months is normal. Another town here, another school there, her ability to adapt is as easy as breathing. But everything changes when her parents go overseas and Rose moves in with her grandmother. She enjoys meeting new friends and catching up with old ones from her childhood holidays — except now she must hide a precious secret from everyone, a gift from birth that defies modern day science.

Arrival of the Traveler


Suddenly thrust into a life of political plots and religious fanatics, Lena finds herself struggling to navigate her own life. Some people aren’t fond of the Darays, and the family has nearly died out through assassination.
It appears Lena is the latest target.

Dreams & Shadows


Eighteen year old Michael has always had a strange longing for his never-known mother. When a powerful dream hints at her existence, he is drawn to seeking answers: a search that results in him outrunning a bullet before being pulled into the beautiful but dangerous world of Aylosia.



Discovering she can turn invisible terrifies Samantha, especially when she learns a geneticist who murdered her mom wants her too. Handsome Will Baker offers help and secrecy, but soon Sam will have to choose between keeping her secrets and keeping Will in her life. Suspenseful and romantic, Rippler and its sequels capture the collision of the beautiful with the dark.

Girl on a Wire


Sixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.

Severed Wings


“Normal” is something I could only dream of being called. “Mental” or “screwed up” is what I’m labeled. But actually feeling other people’s pain does that to a girl. I’m not an empath. I’m crazy! That is until I meet one guy who makes it all go away.

Distant Dreams


Kai Watson is only 16, but she’s never had a real dream in her life. Each night, her spirit leaves her body and travels to a new location. After witnessing the brutal murder of upperclassman Darla Baxter while astral traveling, Kai is determined to stay out of it. She never saw the murderer’s face, and who would believe her anyway?

Golden Blood


Gemma Hart never knows when her father is going to whisk her back in time. Her toes start tingling and she has a few minutes to find a secret haven where she can disintegrate and appear in another time and place. While “across the line,” her training and skills are put to the test as she completes a mission that will change history for the lucky few her father has selected.



What do you do when the ghost haunting your house falls in love with you?
Jade Foster just moved to a new city with her mother and step-dad in the middle of her senior year. She doesn’t know anyone. She has a midterm on Monday. And her house is haunted.

Poison My Pretty


When Poppy Parker turns 21, the popular TV witch detective discovers she has supernatural powers OFF the set as well as ON. The show gets canceled and she returns home to figure out how to harness the magic brewing inside her.
Freaked out by these recent paranormal gifts, Poppy just wants to fit in, so when she’s asked to serve as a judge for the annual Bloomin’ Belles youth beauty competition she readily agrees.
But when the pageant’s snooty director drops dead and Poppy’s friend is arrested,
the former TV sleuth sets out to uncover the real killer, only to find…
the business of beauty can be deadly.

Born at Midnight


One night Kylie Galen finds herself at the wrong party, with the wrong people, and it changes her life forever. Her mother ships her off to Shadow Falls—a camp for troubled teens, and within hours of arriving, it becomes painfully clear that her fellow campers aren’t just “troubled.” Here at Shadow Falls, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, witches and fairies train side by side—learning to harness their powers, control their magic and live in the normal world.

Fire in Frost


CRYSTAL FROST tells herself she isn’t crazy, but sane people don’t see ghosts. As her psychic abilities manifest, Crystal discovers she can see into the future, witness the past, and speak with the dead. Add blackmail to the list of things she never thought would happen to her, and you basically have her sophomore year covered.

Demons at Deadnight


The battle to save her family, herself, and stop demonic domination may cost Aurora everything worth living for, and force her to reveal her own dark secrets. But no worries. She needs the Hex Boys to pull this off, and, chances are, teaming up with these guys will get her killed anyway.


Have any other Young Adult Magical Mysteries that you think should be on this list? Mention them in a comment below and I’ll take a look!