It’s all about me – writing in the first person

About writing

It's all about the first person for Mo FanningIt’s all about me, or at least that’s how things might appear to a casual reader of my writing. I’ve written so much in first person that no matter how hard I try to present the story from another point of view, I drift back.

I start in the abstract third person, smugly enjoying how this ever-present voice lets me talk about other characters behind their backs. By the third page, one voice has taken over, and even if he or she isn’t yet talking directly to the reader, it’s pretty clear they need to.

It seems I need someone tell the tale for me. Perversely, I enjoy the restriction of only having the narrator know what they can know. The lack of insight into what others are seeing and doing creates tension. It lets me set up scenes without pages of explanation.

First person head hopping

Staying in that voice is the problem. When I first started to write, I found myself making the rookie mistake of ‘head hopping’. Early drafts are peppered with lines like, ‘She nodded as I spoke, knowing she’d ignore every word.’

As if first person isn’t enough, I’ve developed a love of present tense. Something that most writers hate. It puts me in the driving seat. Things happen in real time. Of course, linear timelines can become dull for the reader, and that’s where the tricks of the trade creep in. Reflection and the plain art of a character giving themselves ‘a damn good talking to’ help vary the pace. One thing to watch for is that you don’t let your characters wallow in self pity – it’s a huge turn off.

Stage directions are my next big sin. Things have to flow. The first draft may say, ‘I walk across the room to the widow as he speaks, stopping and looking back, gasping at how tired he looks sitting on a chair.’

The second draft better not.

What’s wrong with, ‘I stare through the window, as he speaks. He sounds so tired.’ Who needed to know about me walking, turning, staring and gasping, or him sitting?

As I reach the mid-point of a fifth draft of my next novel, I realise it has little resemblance to the first. But this isn’t a bad thing. I’ve uncovered the head hops, the wallowing meditations and detailed choreography. Next stop typos.

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