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The First Person

11 Jun

Most of my reading of late has been by authors, Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne, who utilize the first person point of view in their urban fantasy series’. I enjoy the intimacy that this POV provides into the protagonist. I feel like I know these characters. I truly feel like I’m in their heads and feeling their pain. Usually, I end up screaming at them, sometimes out loud, that they should do something different because they obviously are too stupid to see what’s coming. My wife tends to look at me with disgust and shake her head when I get too loud. Anyway, I had not given much consideration to writing in first person for my fiction until a few weeks ago. I have written a few first person experiential vignettes but always looked to third person for my fantasy work.

During a writer’s group timed exercise I just started writing in first person. To say it was different would be a gross understatement. I had to keep telling myself to stay out of the secondary character’s heads. My protagonist would have no idea what the other individual was thinking except by watching and listening to other character’s reactions. Why I have not looked at this before is beyond me.

As I began to evaluate the exercise, it dawned on me that first person is a natural vehicle for a fantasy writer. When we fantasize, don’t we tend to put ourselves into the fantastic situation? We don’t know what the outcome will be and we certainly don’t have all the information of the universe at our disposal. We have to react without knowledge of other’s motivations.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of taking one of my favorite characters, jump into their body, and take it for a spin without regard to what I think I know about their world. I did create it after all.

First, I plan to take my original exercise piece and finish the scene the way it was playing out in my head when I wrote the opening. It is somewhat different from how my fellow writer finished it (see Dual Writing Exercise – Part Deux).

Then, I think Yursi Sonal, my protagonist from a short story and several flash pieces, will become my experiment. Don’t worry, she won’t mind. In my world, she trusts me. 😉 I have another short story idea for her that I will try with first person.

So, before I plunge headlong into this without a care in the world, I have a few questions for those of you who are intimately familiar with this POV. What are some of the major issues that you have struggled with? E.g. Exposition of information the protagonist needs to know, continuity of antagonist’s motivations and actions, internal dialogue, etc. Do you prefer writing is first or third person? Why?

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13 Comments

Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Other Strangeness

 

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13 responses to “The First Person

  1. annewoodman

    June 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Ha! I find that when I write in third person, it feels weird. I tend to write almost everything in first person–I like that there are very clear boundaries about what the narrator can know and not know. For me, as long as I stay in her head, things work out just fine. I can only imagine, though, if you’re used to a more omniscient point of view, that it would be a sea change to switch! Good luck. It’s a good exercise for all of us to try out different POVs.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      June 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      Excellent, you won’t mind me throwing questions at you when I get stuck, will you? 😉

       
  2. Nicole

    June 11, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    I have always written in the first person, all the way back to when I wrote “A Horse Named Sam” in the second grade. Once I grew embarrassed by this tendency, I wrote in third person, but never from an omniscient POV. During a memoir writing class in college, I was required to write two pages(I chose first person POV). Then, I was required to write it a second time using third person POV. The variation was astounding, even given that it was only from one perspective. The point? If you think there’s something missing, switch POV while keeping the perspective. Then you can switch the pronouns around and end up with a remarkable result.

    By far the most difficult, is I get too wrapped up in one perspective. I have to put the writing down and write from my antagonist’s POV—or even from another character. I have to let them speak, let them lay out the scene. Then I can switch back over to my main character. Another thing, and it might be personal style, is that I cut out too much of the thought process, Later, I have to go back and “fill in” scenes. The whole “delete, delete, delete” advice doesn’t bode well for this minimalist writer.

    Anyway, I was planning on doing a POV post on my site sometime. I’ll drop you a note here with a link if you’d like (slash, if I remember). Point of views are so much fun!
    Nicolette.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      June 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

      Nicole-
      Thank you for your execllent ideas. I especially liked your idea about switching to the antagonist’s POV to help layout a difficult scene. I look forward to reading your post on POV.
      -Dennis

       
  3. Catherine Austen

    June 13, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I write in both third and first person, and I’m not sure why I choose one or the other for a particular story. First person can be hard if you have a complicated plot because you have to come up with clever ways for the narrator to describe things he didn’t witness, and there’s always a gap between the way things are and the way the narrator sees them. That can be fun to play with as a writer. For fantasy or historicals or any story set outside the reader’s everyday world, if you use first person you have to be especially creative in describing the setting naturally. (It’s the “fish in water” situation, described by the fish.) But I find it easier to get into the head of a character through his own voice. Either POV makes for good reading, though, so go with what feels right.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      June 13, 2012 at 10:43 am

      Catherine-

      Thank you for your helpful comments. How have you handled the exposition of unwitnessed information? This is one of the areas that concerns me.
      -Dennis

       
  4. 4amWriter

    June 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I blogged about this a few months ago because I am a big POV snob, lol. I don’t particularly care which POV is written. However, the trick is to be consistent and I get very, very, very irritated when I see the author straying into characters’ heads when he shouldn’t be there. When I’m critiquing an ms, watching POV is in the top 3 of my checklist.

    Having said that, I think in the majority of cases, the story dictates POV, not the author. I believe writers can learn all sorts of POVs if they are willing, but that just because an author is more comfy with one over another does not mean that is the POV for the story.

    This is a very controversial comment I’m making, so feel free to come right back at me 🙂 It is simply my experience as a writer and as a reader that the characters let us know the strongest viewpoint, they let us know whose story it is. When an author strays, to me, that means the author might have gone with the wrong POV. Not in all cases, but in many.

    As long as the author is well-connected to the story, knows it in and out, then 9 times out of 10 he will unconsciously choose the right POV. And that’s because he allowed the characters to tell him what’s going on, rather than the other way around. Again, probably controversial, but more and more I feel like that’s that way it is. Like I said, hit me with a rebuttal if need be! 🙂

     
  5. Dennis Langley

    June 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Actually, I’m beginning to think you are right on the money. As I look at some of my current WIP projects, it appears that the ones I have struggled with might be better served using a different POV. I think a conversation with my characters is in order. 🙂 Thank you for the great insight.

     
    • 4amWriter

      June 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm

      Phew, thank goodness. I actually worried today that I overstepped my blogging boundaries (sometimes I get on that high horse of mine and take off!).

      Conversations with characters are the highlight of any author’s day. Pour yourself a glass of something nice and relax with some enlightening chit-chat. 🙂

       
      • Dennis Langley

        June 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

        I just hate when a character asks me a question and my only response is “Huh?” 🙂

         
  6. Kimberly Packard

    June 15, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Thanks, Dennis! I’ve written a short story or two in first person, but I’m afraid of diving in for a novel in that voice.

     
    • Dennis Langley

      June 19, 2012 at 9:31 am

      I think there are some tricks, that I am not aware of, when using first person for long fiction. So I’m going to work up a few more short pieces to get comfortable with it before I make the big jump.

       

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