Off the top of my head, I can only think of one occasion when I wrote something in first-person that wasn’t told in journal format. It was one of the books of a discontinued series that was my attempt at writing a 1980s and 1990s version of the Little House books.
Every year, the family would move to and live in a new state. They had four daughters, Anna, Amy, Sally, and Kelly, and in the book about Montana, Mrs. Thomas, the mom, had twins, Davy and Emerald. The one first-person attempt in this juvenile series was the book about Illinois. So many years later, I can’t even remember why I decided to try that particular book in first-person. I still have those few pages, in the cornflower blue 5-subject notebook where I wrote the majority of the rough draft of Saga II of Cinnimin.
Boy, is it appallingly awful. Completely NOT in the sweet, innocent (if immaturely-written) style of the prior books. The other book in that series I still have (also never finished) is about Utah, and similarly seems out of style with the earlier books (really more like novelettes) I’d written. I probably aborted that series because I just realized my heart was no longer in it and I wanted to write longer stuff, with more mature themes. It wasn’t right to have these wholesome characters suddenly acting like my Atlantic City characters and doing really goofy, loopy stuff besides. So I moved on.
I’ve naturally always gravitated towards third-person omniscient, and will occasionally do third-person limited to an extent. But writing in first-person just doesn’t come naturally to me. I feel closer to my characters because they’re in third-person. I think of them by their names—Violet, Kit, Cinnimin, Max, Eulalia, Daphne, Portia, Justine, Adicia, Allen, Lenore, Lyuba, Ivan, Boris, Katrin, Kat, Nikolas, Eliisabet, et al. I get to know each of them as individuals, instead of a constant stream of I-I-I-me-me-me-my-my-my-mine-mine-mine.
When you’re writing a long, complex, sweeping saga with a very wide plot trajectory, many characters, and numerous subplots and storylines, third-person omniscient is the only way to go. And third-person limited works if it’s a book of a lesser epic scale but you still want introspection and world-building. Most of my third-person limited so far has been with my Shoah characters, in the collections of stories I’m expanding into full novels. When you don’t have an ensemble cast and the story is more focused on just one character, third-person limited can work very well.
I just can’t make the psychological leap of writing in the first person and pretending I’m a fictional character. Attempting to write an entire book, unless it were in journal form, in first-person when that’s not really my voice, would feel really fake and forced. I’d be extremely unhappy if I attempted it, since that’s just not who I am. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not (i.e., a first-person writer, not a fictional character), and never will be. The old-fashioned third-person omniscient has always worked just fine for me.
Lately it’s harder for me to get into a first-person book, because it seems like 90% of all books nowadays, esp. YA, are first-person. I don’t remember nearly so many when I was a young adult a generation ago. I’ve enjoyed quite a few first-person books (most recently the classic Annie on My Mind), but because they were well-written and I liked the subject matter, not because I felt closer to the protagonist based on narrative choice.
But I have enjoyed writing limited first-person sections, in the form of letters and journal entries. It’s fun to write from the POV of just one character for a few pages, but I couldn’t sustain that over hundreds of pages.