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Monday, April 4, 2011

Writing in First Person

The book I am now revising was first written in third-person point of view. During the revision process, I changed it to first. I am now revising this new version.

Writers are often advised not to write in first person for numerous reasons.

Why, then, am I?

It feels “right.” The main character is a fourteen-year-old girl who is not me at the age of fourteen, but, perhaps, is the me I would have liked to have been. I am so close to this character that I feel like I am her. I feel like I am living her life.

I mentioned before, that as my real days warmed up, I became confused, thinking it was fall instead of spring. My revisions were at the point in the story when it was fall. My real life and my life inside of Sarah’s head became intertwined.

(No prob now because spring has sprung in the book as well as in real life.)

I am now about half-way through revising the rewrite. One problem with writing in first person is the difficulty of staying in this person’s point of view through an entire book. However, so far, I’ve only caught one point-of-view error.

It’s often a good idea to get others to look for point-of-view errors. Recently, I read a portion of a manuscript from a multi-published author with a major point-of-view error. I believe these are the hardest errors for authors to spot in their own work. Practice, practice, practice and then being critiqued is the only way I know to learn POV.

Another problems to overcome while writing first person is the tendency to begin every sentence with “I.” Here’s a sample from my manuscript:

Tears burned my eyes. I rose abruptly. “I’ll be back later.”

I didn’t look back, but I heard chairs scraping across the floor.

I hurried, jumping over the porch steps. I ran to the road. I wiped away the tears with the back of my hand. I slowed to a walk, a cool breeze cooling my hot cheeks.

I didn’t know where I was heading until I saw the path winding up the slope by the trees. Cedar Spring. I scrambled up the bank and entered into the coolness of the trees.

Wow. Twelve “I”s in that short section. That was the first rough draft. The first revision reads like this:

Tears burning my eyes, I rose abruptly. “Be back later,” I mumbled.

Chairs scraped across the floor, but I didn’t glance back. Not knowing where I headed, I jumped down the porch steps and trotted down the road. With the back of my hand, I swiped at the tears. A soft breeze blew cooling my hot cheeks as I slowed to a walk.

To the right of the road, a path wound up the slope. The path to Cedar Spring. Scrambling up the bank, I entered into the coolness of the trees.

Still quite a few “I”s, and that’s unavoidable. But now, the structure of the sentences has changed so that not as many sentences begin with “I.”

Notice this in particular: “I heard chairs scraping across the floor.” I dropped the “I heard.” Who else would hear but Sarah, the “I”? And also: “I saw the path winding up” changed simply to “a path wound up.” Who else would see the path but Sarah? So, again, the “I saw” is unnecessary.

Despite the difficulties, I believe first person helps pull your reader deeper into your story. It’s certainly pulling me deeper. What season is it again?

Critique of the revised version, anyone?

8 comments:

  1. "Scrambling up the bank, I entered into the coolness of the trees."

    Here's one suggestion: The coolness of the trees beckoned me and I scrambled up the bank.

    Doesn't get rid of the "I" but it does get rid of the participle phrase that I've heard many editors are not fond of. I hope that helps some!

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  2. Thanks, Jamie, for the help. Sounds good!

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  3. Tears burned my eyes and pushed me out of my seat. “Be back later,” I mumbled.

    Chairs scraped across the floor, but that didn’t make me glance back. I jumped down the porch steps and trotted down the road. It mattered little where. My hand shook as I swiped at the tears. The soft breeze cooled my hot cheeks and slowed me to a walk.

    To the right of the road, a path wound up the slope. The path to Cedar Spring. Scrambling up the bank, I entered into the coolness of the trees.


    :) Sheila, I am so glad that you have found this affinity with a character. There is nothing quite like it! And the closer you are with your characters, the easier it is (sometimes) to draw your readers into that same close relationship.

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  4. Ooohh . . . I like "It mattered little where."

    Thanks for taking a look!

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  5. I used first perosn for my noevel Witness because I wanted to capture the naivete' of my MC who was a child at the time. I found myself strugling with the I's and me's too. One way to eliminate some of the I's is to simply start things in a factural manner. A bad example would be "His eyes burned with rage." Rather than "I read the rage in his eyes" or "He stared at me in rage," etc. It's easy to replace an I with a me and then end up with too many of them!
    Peace and Blessings

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  6. I should have proofed my comment. (Duh!) person not perosn. novel...not noevel. Struggling not strugling. factual not factural.

    Can you believe I had errors in the corrections above? Now you know what some of my manuscripts start out like. Dyslexics of the world unite. ;o)

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  7. Lots of great suggestions and things to watch for. My fiction book is written in the first person, but I'm also sprinkling in several chapters here and there written in the third to help give more depth to the story and to share insight from a couple more characters. So far, I like the way it's working out.
    Happy writing :)

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  8. @ E.G.--would you believe I didn't even notice your mistakes? It's funny how your eyes automatically correct mistakes. Thanks for the suggestions!

    @ Debbie--sounds like a good idea, Debbie! Good luck with your book!

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Thanks for sitting a spell and chatting!