Sunday, June 22, 2014

I is not me

I have a very large collection of books full of writerly advice overstuffing my bookcase. I also read, and have read, a lot of writing advice in blogs such as this one. Most of the advice I read is sound, solid stuff,  about the things a writer ought to pay attention to—write realistic dialog,  use precision in language, and so forth. But one bit of advice I read recently made me stomp around my writer’s garret. The advice: don’t attempt to write in the first person. You’ll never be able to pull it off, the article continued to say, because it’s limiting and, moreover, first person is usually thinly disguised autobiography .
                I took umbrage, probably because most of my work is written in first person. I love an up close personal perspective, it allows the reader to not only see and feel what the main character is thinking, but to experience the story first hand. When writing in first person, I have to filter everything seen and heard in the story through the character’s perspective. Challenging? Yes, of course it is. But it also allows for a depth third person can’t give you.
            Now, let me interject here to say I have nothing against third person narratives. I've written third person and some of my favorite books are written in third person. Each point of view has advantages and disadvantages and, as a writer, you must decide which you are most comfortable with and which works best for your story.
            What got my undies in a bunch with this advice was the ‘don’t do first you can’t do it right’ aspect of it.  On which I call bull hockey puckets.  Although, I will agree first person is limiting (you can have in close or you can have wide view, you cannot have both at the same time), I strongly disagree with the idea that first person is autobiographical. I've written six full length novels and a series of novellas in the first person. I've written both heroes and heroines in the first person, and I can tell you unequivocally that none of them is me, a little old writer who drinks too much coffee and battles a gummy bear addiction.
            What I will tell you is that first person allows me to get into the character’s head, and so for a time,
like a method actor, I can take on their persona. I can become Mandy, the first person narrator of  my upcoming novel, Confessions of the Sausage Queen, who knows all the gossip in her small town and likes to ramble on (and on) about the people she knows and loves. Mandy is a talker, I am not. It was fun ‘becoming Mandy’, like playing pretend. But Mandy is not who I am. The I in the book is not me.

         Do you write in  first person? Why or why not? 

'Til next time


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I leave no "person” untried. I'm currently writing in the Jodi Picoult fashion, first person for each POV chapter. It works for my current WIP; it wouldn't work for all books.

When I wrote travel articles, they were in second person, not good for fiction.

Many of my third person stories are omniscient, usually best for mysteries. The story and characters dictate the person to best wring out the maximum emotion and empathy from the reader. Rules are early guidelines and need to be reevaluated.

Ute Carbone said...

Exactly, Julie. What works for one book might not work for another. First person is terrific for my chick-lit style rom coms, but it wouldn't work for a mystery or an epic fantasy story. I've seen second person done brilliantly in short story form, but I think it would be a distraction in a full-length novel

Angelina Windsor said...

First person is my favorite because of it being so up close and personal and I get to live the journey of the character. I do write in other forms, but first will always be my favorite to write, and to read. For example, The Outsiders, anyone!

Liz Fountain said...

I'm going to experiment with first person for a middle grade book I'm working on. Early readers have given me feedback about staying in the young protagonist's POV and I think trying out first person would be an interesting way to approach it. Haven't done it before - so it'll be a challenge for me!

Thanks for the inspiration, Ute!


January Bain said...

Thanks for the interesting blog, Ute. Others suggesting such a thing about your writing in first person as not being correct is-- just plain wrong. Writing in first person for the right kind of story can be so perfect because you get to be inside someone's mind which makes it a real experience and very rewarding.

Ute Carbone said...

Go, Liz. It is challenging in its own way. Actually, I think each POV, and each book, brings up its own challenges. Which, also, is part of the fun of writing. :)
There are so many terrific books written in first person, Angelina. One of my all time favorites is "To Kill a Mockingbird." Can you even imagine Scout NOT telling that story?
Exactly, January. Getting totally immersed in character is one of the great things about first person POV

Veronica Helen Hart said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Ute. Writing in whatever person has to be what the author believes to be the best POV. In my Blenders series, I always have my protagonist POV in the first person, but then the surrounding actors are third person. Readers seem to enjoy that. My other books are historical fiction and in third person, which works for those stories. There is no WRONG POV unless it is badly written, then it doesn't matter which POV it is.