Saturday, April 20, 2013

I am Me

I am me and this is who I am, and what I see, what I hear, what I feel, taste, or want, among many other things of that nature.

Have you ever read a book written in first person? It doesn't seem to be one of the more popular POVs out there. Most everyone prefers to write in any of the third person POVs - it's easier to fill in all the different layers of a story when several points of view can look at the issue at hand. With first person, all you can know is what your main character knows, what he or she feels, thinks, sees and hears. Handled well, this can be just as fulfilling as any other POV.

In my short experience with other writers here around the www, first person seems to be the choice for the young or new writer. It wasn't for me, but I did experiment with it once, and actually enjoyed the exercise. I was...oh...maybe a couple hundred pages into The Fortunes of Magic when I decided to change it to first person - it just wasn't developing the way I wanted. How can you tell a story about one person when secondary people keep coming and then going from his life? The things they said and did helped Liam develop and make the decisions he needed to make, but their own private stories and thoughts weren't so important.

Switching to first person after already starting was interesting and tedious, but really rather rewarding. It took some time to go back through and weed out all the other perspectives, and rewrite the important ones as seen or heard, or understood by Liam. I still prefer third person, generally rather close perspective as it still allows me to follow usually only one person but not from inside their head.

I think it's the choice of new writers because they are not used to putting themselves in several different pairs of shoes in order to fill in all the different perspectives to flesh out their tale. If you're writing first person, you only have to deal with one character; all the rest are just players on a stage in front of your eyes.

The use of first person is not the only tell of a new writer. It's also the thinness of the details. A new writer isn't used to making use of all the senses as well as all the other things that go on inside one's head. Consider the most mundane task imaginable. Let's pick a twenty minute drive to work on the freeway. Now, we all know we wouldn't put such a drive in our writing without something happening along the way, but just bear with me for a moment.

Every thing we do; every decision we make, is based on outside feed, no matter how subliminal. Someone's rear-view mirror flashes the morning sun in our eyes so we reach for sunglasses. The car in front of you, or maybe the car in front of him, flashes his break lights and we let up on the gas or change lanes. A sign comes up and is past - you long since have stopped reading it, but you know it's time to get ready to leave the freeway. There is a million little bits of information, each one triggering a thought or decision without us being aware of it, not really anyway. The only time such a drive would be remotely interesting is the first time.

So, sit back for a moment and think about all the input that is going on around your character. That is something I tried to do with The Fortunes of Magic. Maybe I succeeded, maybe not. One reviewer said there was no goal to the book, and in a way, I suppose there wasn't. Plans for Liam's future all went awry when things happened, and then all he could do was try his best to be the best person he could be. There was no bucking the tidal wave of input that decided his life from that point forward. And then there came a time when there was no place for him at all.

At the moment, I'm reading Host, by Stephenie Meyer. This book is first person, though kinda not, as there are two people in one body. Still, being only one body, there's still only one stage and only one pair of eyes. Very interesting perspective. There will be a book review here at some point soon. So, next time you decide to take on a first person story, turn your head into a movie camera. Consider all the input that triggers all the decisions your character might make, and find a way to answer any of those hanging questions that sometimes seem to leak through.


Anonymous said...

I almost always write in first person. The way I get around trying to fit in different perspectives is to alternate POV in each chapter, but never with more than two characters. First person does have it's limitations, but as a YA writer, I've found first person seems to be used more often than in adult novels. Third person is definitely a must in fantasy or science fiction when the author is trying to weave in complex story elements.

Jacqui said...

I have pretty much decided to rewrite a paleohistoric novel I wrote years ago in the first person. I love the story, but it doesn't grab the reader. Maybe it's too hard to relate to. I'm hoping by making the reader walk in this prehistoric female's footprints, they'll feel her story better.

We'll see!

Anna L. Walls said...

Good luck with that. An under the skin view may be just the thing. Let me know if there's any way I can help.

William Kendall said...

I'd have trouble writing first person. I like third person, and in my genre, I can move into the point of view of multiple characters that way.