Part 1 in the series, “Seeing I to I: Writing the First Person Article”
Although I’ve written plays, novels, short stories, devotions, articles, and even textbooks, the greatest reader response I’ve received has always been from my first-person articles.
Fifteen years after I came home from the Vietnam War, I wrote a 2,000-word feature titled, “Why I Fought in Vietnam, and Why I’d Do It Again.” That article has been published in The Baptist Bulletin, The War Cry, The Waynedale News, Military Life, and ten other magazines and newspapers. It also has been translated into German, Portuguese, and Russian for publication in international periodicals. It first ran in 1984 and most recently in 2010. I have stacks of letters from veterans who wrote to say, “You explained how I felt, but I just didn’t know how to put it in words. I’ve shared your article with all my relatives and friends.”
On the other end of the spectrum, I wrote a 1,900-word feature titled, “Funeral Planning Fun? Dead Right!” It was a satirical report about the bizarre ordeal my wife and I went through in buying caskets, ordering a tombstone, and planning our funerals. It was published in nineteen newspapers in early 2013, and I received emails and letters from readers who said, “I laughed so hard, I fell out of my chair. Who would have thought that the subject of death could have been so hilarious!”
These two examples—one extremely serious, the other totally comedic—show how much readers appreciate and become impacted by I-was-right-there narratives. But writing first person articles is tricky because the finished product shouldn’t read as though it’s something you’ve extracted from your diary or copied from your personal journal. Readers don’t give a rip about your summer vacation or your difficulties using new computers or your embarrassment at being overweight at your class reunion unless they can receive some insight and personal benefit by reading the piece.
Next week: “Bring the Reader Along”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and an annual judge for the Evangelical Press Association Awards and the Christy Fiction Awards. His five dozen books include:
- Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World
- How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It
- Man to Man: Becoming the Believer God Called You to Be
- More Than Meets the Eye: Finding an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Life
- Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours
- Surprises and Miracles of the Season: Devotions for Christmas and New Year’s
- The Power of Positive Productivity
© 2015 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.