Wednesday, July 21, 2010
My name is Sarah A. Hoyt and I’m a first person pov writer.
For many years, I’ve been driven by society to hide what I am and not to be true to my own self. You’ve heard the hateful lies, as well as I have: first person is an amateurish way to write; first person sounds contrived; first person means you’re just writing yourself; first person limits your scope.
For years I forced myself to write third person and hid my light under a bushel. But since my last two series forced themselves on me as first person, and since both Darkship Thieves and the Daring Finds mysteries are doing better than anything else I wrote, it is time to admit... I’m sorry. I simply write first person better than I do third. It’s easier for me.
Now, I know it’s not easier for everyone, and I’m not going to advocate doing it for everyone. I read and enjoy a lot of third person, just like I read and enjoy a lot of first person. It seems to be only third person writers who are determined to make sure that no one writes in a pov other than third – but perhaps that’s my perspective.
Most classical SF was written in first person. I grew up with Heinlein and Simak, both of them doing the bulk of their work in first person. Most UF is first person. A lot of legendary mystery – some Christie, most Rex Stout – is written in first person. Very few of these sound like the first person is a reflection of the writer.
There are some things you can only do in first person, such as bring the character’s personality across full force. Oh, sure, you can have some of this with third person in dialogue or direct thoughts. But if you pause a third person narrative to convey such interesting insights as Athena’s “A girl’s best friend is a high powered weapon,” say, you’re as likely as not to annoy the reader. While because a first person story reads as “narrated” there is space for some explanation done in a quirky fashion.
Now, mind you, narrated is not the same thing as told. How do I explain this? If you tell your friend what happened to you today, you’ll condense, ellipse and make it shorter and higher-level so you don’t tell him a story that lasts three days. Your concern is not so much with making him FEEL what’s happening as with getting done with it and moving. But when you’re selling a book with a story, you’re selling the experience.
Consider one of my free stories, here: http://cornerbooth.sarahahoyt.com/Download1.html Neptune’s orphans.
If you’re telling that story to a friend you’d say “Dude, we were asleep in our dorm, and these guys came in and started killing everyone.”
If you’re showing the story to a reader, you ARE there, you immerse yourself, you narrate each event, action, reaction, as if it were happening to you at that moment, so the reader can feel it too: Before the first burner singed the air, I had jumped. * I didn’t know why. Perhaps I wasn’t truly asleep and heard strange steps in the hallway. Or perhaps a voice whispering what was planned for us. I don’t know.
Whatever warning there was fell into my sleeping mind and made my body react.* I woke up half way through my jump-and-dive, dragging with me my brother Pol, who slept in the next bed. We thudded together into a too-narrow space between his bed and the wall.
It saved our lives, because the blinding flash of the burner swung in an arc which sliced my bed in two, setting it on fire. Still half asleep, dazzled by the brilliance of the light, the acrid smoke in my nostrils, I pushed Pol further back and down, shoving him right next to the wall and pressing close to him, close, my heart beating a deafening rhythm.
“Cas, what–?” he said, his voice barely audible, because in addition to the sizzling sounds of the burners there were now screams and gurgles, moans and cries for mercy. *I recognized the voices of my dormitory mates, and I didn’t want to recognize them. I’d never heard them sound like that.*
Note the bits between asterisks are “narration” or what I’d call explanation sentences. They’re essential for you to get the narration, and they can be used – if your character is mouthy like Athena – to convey the personality of the character.
There are first person weaknesses: Like... describing your character; or showing something your character doesn't know; or having your character lie. Do you have any questions about how to overcome first person weaknesses? I’ve worked at all of them and might be able to answer. Or we might be able to figure it out together.