My Struggles with Writing in First-Person
I explained a bit on my website about this experience with my current WIP. The largest reason is my lack of experience writing in first-person (third was always a personal favorite, especially when it’s limited), but also the laziness that crept in.
If you’re a writer, there really isn’t room for laziness. We all have those days when Netflix is a solid option and the words just aren’t coming, but then guilt sets in when we don’t have any progress (even if it’s doing research).
So I’m picking myself up by my bootstraps and I’m getting my hands dirty.
What to Avoid
It’s easy to write “I fought the demon with my longsword.” That’s a sentence with all of the parts of speech in the right places.
But it’s also boring as hell. (Ha. Hell. Demon. Pun.)
And that’s the sort of sentence that my MS is riddled with. RIDDLED. Like an infectious spore found its way into my text and MULTIPLIED EXPONENTIALLY. I need a hazmat suit and some chlorine bleach to clean this mess up.
Chuck Palahniuk uses the word “unpack” for instances like these (a link to his article can be found below). UNPACK THE SENTENCE. What is the character doing? How does the character feel? U N P A C K.
So let’s unpack the sentence, “I fought the demon with my longsword.”
“The longsword, heavy and unbalanced, needed two hands. No shield for me–just this giant weapon that I’d never used before. The demon crept closer, almost like it was stalking me. My inexperience must have been obvious. It took its time coming to me, prolonging the anxiety. The demon salivated, licking its lips in delicious anticipation.”
That second sentence is forty-nine words longer than the first (if I counted ’em up correctly–I did it by hand, if I’m honest). Forty-nine extra words. It took me around five minutes longer to write it. I had to think about what I was trying to say. I had to think about who was watching it.
But you can feel the difference. You’re living the experience itself, not just watching the character experience it. That’s a big deal. This is how readers connect to the MC. This is what I struggled with (and still struggle with) in writing first-person.
Then, if writing in first-person is so difficult, why not switch to third?
That’s a thought that I’ve had, I’m not gonna lie. But with the story I’m writing, first-person makes the most sense. The MC, honestly, demands it.
The goal was to have a psychological component to an action/adventure story. But, really, with sentences like “I fought the demon with my longsword,” the psychological element wasn’t there. Unpacking the sentences brings the reader in. The way I see it, the narration has to happen this way, in order for the MC to really come through.
Approaches to Take
If you’re inexperienced, like me, it helps to watch a movie or TV show that fits into your MS’s genre and try to narrate what’s happening through that character’s POV. What did I do? I remembered one of my favorite Buffy episodes (“Band Candy,” Season Three, Episode Six) and went from there.
It’s also vital to read. Find good fiction that fits your story’s POV and pay attention to the techniques that author used. I’m currently reading Victoria Schwab (both This Savage Song and The Darker Shade of Magic). Even though both of those stories are in third-person, her narrative voice is amazing. I’m learning so much from her.
So PRACTICE. Unpack! Go forth, dear writers. Stay awesome.
MK England’s blog post (and read her blog in general because it’s amazing)